Coaching Log – October 23, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

The first half of the season is over. Thanks to the weekend results, it looks like at least some stuff is starting to settle out. Other stuff, though, remains a bit muddled. This latter bit was helped by Angelo losing both their matches – each in 5 – on the road at the New Mexico schools. For our own part we would have preferred they won both. It would have kept things tighter in our vicinity.

Tarleton continued to roll, with wins at both the New Mexico schools, and Commerce picked up wins at West Texas and UTPB to firm up their position at #2 in the standings.

A look at the statistics tells the story of our position in the standings. Our offense has not been nearly good enough. While we’re 4th in terms of opponent hitting efficiency, we’re 10th when it comes to our own attacking. Part of the defensive side of things is that our block ranks 3rd in terms of blocks/set. We rank 5th in aces/set, but not helping our offense is that we’ve suffered more aces/set than anyone else.

Last year we managed to get into the conference tournament with 6 wins, but that was by the skin of our teeth. I suspect we need to have 7 or 8 to get in this year given how tight things are in the middle of the standings. That means we need 4 or 5 wins in the second half of the season. Unfortunately, the schedule does not help us in that regard. We have to go to the New Mexico schools, and we also have away matches at Commerce and Texas Woman’s. That’s three out of four against teams we’re battling for a place in the tournament.

On the plus side, we get Angelo and West Texas at home. Neither of them has played all that well on the road. Obviously, we must beat the two teams below us, and we get both of them at home as well.

Monday

As per usual, we started with a look back. In particular, we went over the stats for the first half of the conference season. We talked about where we need to get better (offense), and we talked about where we’ve done well (block/defense). As for serving, we talked about how we can probably get a little more aggressive. One of the observations was that our middles have the highest error % among our attackers with the exception of one. Definitely not what you want to see!

After the statistical evaluation, we took a look at video from our last match against Tuesday’s opponent. Then we spent some time looking at the things we’ve accomplished this year and the things we could yet accomplish. This was from the perspective of history – things either not done in several years or not done at all in program history.

Practice was less than 90 minutes. Our concussed setter was finally back in training. We started them off with a short game of Brazilian tennis, then moved into some pass-to-attack offense off serve reception. Worked on our attack in line with our need to get better in that facet of the game. We allowed the defending side to run middle attacks back in transition as an extension. An out-of-system game followed to continue to work in aggressive attacks in that phase. We wrapped up with a game of 5 v 5 where we played 3-up/2-back.

Tuesday

The first match of the second half of the LSC season was at Commerce. Obviously, as you can see from the standings above, they are doing well this season.Their only two conference losses were away to Texas Woman’s and away to Kingsville.

We didn’t play particularly well against them the last time out. This time was very different. In the end, it was a 3-2 loss, with a 15-13 final set, but it was probably our best collective performance of the season. We didn’t hit for a high percentage (just .154 for the match), but kept them even lower (.123). Our serve was serve was effective through most of the match. Our block continued to cause problems for opposing hitters, and our serve reception was generally solid. We actually outscored Commerce 102-100 overall, and 72-65 in terms of earned points.

So why did we lose? Well, our out-of-system hitting produced a lot of errors. Of our 28 total hitting errors, half happened while out-of-system. Given how well our defense did, we would have been well served keeping those balls in play. There were a couple of patches where they gave us trouble in serve receive.

Beyond that, though, it just came down to timing. We missed a really poor serve into the net at 7-7 in the 5th. At 9-8 our freshman middle hit a quick just inches wide. Even after that, we came back from 11-8 to take a 13-12 lead. After Commerce sided-out, though, our senior DS, who otherwise passed well on the night, had a serve go right through her hands to set up match point.

Wednesday

The head coach had to be away from campus at that time, so I got to attend the bi-weekly (I think) athletic luncheon in her place. Basically, it’s a group of the older supporters of MSU Athletics getting an update on things from each of the in-season sports. I told them about our recent performances and what we were looking forward to for the upcoming weekend.

We watched some video before practice as part of our prep for Friday. The first part was looking back on our first time playing West Texas. The second was looking at their match from Tuesday night.

Practice itself focused on out-of-system attacking. We did three main activities. The first was a repeat of the pass-to-attack vs. a defense type work we’ve done a lot of lately. From there we moved on to a continuous 3-up/2-back game. The ball was initiated at the setter to force an out-of-system first attack. From there the rallies proceeded normally. Lastly, we played 6 v 6 with bonus points for out-of-system kills.

While we definitely worked on necessary things, the concentration could have been better. But for the day after a tight 5-set match on the road, it wasn’t horrible.

Thursday

Out-of-system attacking continued to be the big theme. After warming up with a spirited game of Brazilian tennis, we got right into it. The first drill was a dig-set-attack exercise. A ball was initiated at a wing defender. The dig was then set to one of the pins by the other wing defender, and was attacked from there. An elastic was run between the antennae to encourage the hitters to swing high.

We followed with a repeat of the 3-up/2-back game from Wednesday. After a few rounds of serve receive to attack, when then played 22 v 22 to finish up. To keep working on out-of-system hitting, we initiated the second ball to the winning side’s setter.

All in all we were pretty happy with how things went. We saw some strong swings.

After practice the team did some community service time at a local middle school. We then had Homecoming activities in the evening.

Friday

We hosted a tri-match this day. The first was the return match against West Texas. They came in at 7-5 in conference after beating Eastern NM earlier in the week.

We finally broke the streak! MSU had not won against WT in 34 tries before this match. Not only did we win, we won 3-0 in convincing fashion. Our offense wasn’t stellar (.175), but we did the business in serve and defense. We tallied 8 aces and they only hit .082.

Our second match of the day was against Newman, from the Heartland Conference. They were picked 4th in the pre-season voting after finishing 2016 tied for 3rd. They played West Texas before playing us. The result was a 3-0 loss without much challenge after the first set. That followed a loss Thursday night at Lubbock Christian (making them 3-4 in conference).

Unfortunately, we did not quite repeat WT’s earlier performance. We struggled mentally. The result was some not so great play – poor decisions, failing to make adjustments quickly enough, etc. To their credit, Newman fought us hard and gave us fits defensively. They hit .236 for the match. Fortunately, we hit .291. Our middles both hit near .400. The final result was a 3-1 win, but it was really tight until the fourth set.

The Newman win put up to 7 non-conference victories for the year. That’s better than the 6 we got last season. It’s also the most since 2013, and the first time since then that we’ll having a winning non-LSC record.

Saturday

We played UTPB for the second time. They lost a 5-setter to Western NM on Wednesday. They also lost a 5-setter at Cameron on Friday night.

In the early stages we had our struggles. UTPB has a couple of powerful attackers and it took us a while to come to grips with them. I mean that both in terms of choking off their opportunities through serving pressure and in our blocking. In the end we won comfortably, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

Offensively, we did OK. Our hitting efficiency was just below .200. Our servers tallied 7 aces and our block got 9 stuffs That contributed to UTPB only hitting .061. Interestingly, our big OPP got no blocks. They basically set away from her. Our OHs put in a pretty good performance there, though, taking part in 5 blocks on that side of the net.

Pin hitter in volleyball – what is it?

What is a pin hitter in volleyball? This is something wondered by a visitor to the blog. It’s a term readers may have seen me use in places like my coaching log. So what does it mean?

First, we need an equipment terminology explanation. In volleyball, people sometimes refer to the two antennae attached to the net as pins. For example, someone might say, “Set it to the pin.” By that they mean set out to the antenna.

See where this is going?

Pin hitters are thus the attackers who generally hit wide sets out toward the antenna. I don’t know when the term came into common use, but it’s been out there for a while now. Some people use the term specifically to refer to outside hitters – those who attack in Position 4. Really, though, the term applies to both left side and right side attackers.

Now, just because someone is a pin hitter it does not mean they only attack wide sets. There is absolutely no reason a pin hitter cannot hit balls out of the middle of the court. For example, they could come inside to hit a 2 ball. They can also attack the ball out of the back row. That is a regular feature of men’s volleyball, and is becoming more a part of women’s volleyball as well.

The term pin hitter in volleyball does not put an attacker in a box. Rather, it is mainly a reference to a player’s position on the court. The pin hitters are the players whose front row position is closer to the antenna. This is obviously in contrast to the middle hitter, who generally plays in the central part of the court. They sometimes hit balls near the pin (slide attack), but are still middle players.

I hope that helps clear things up for you. If you have any questions about it, definitely let me know.

Coaching Log – October 16, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

The weekend results could probably be said to be in our favor. Eastern NM and Western NM both lost two – each to Commerce and Texas Woman’s. That put them on 4 losses each with Angelo and Tarleton upcoming this week. Not matches they’d be expected to win. Cameron and UTPB also lost their weekend fixtures, to keep both at the bottom of the standings. Interestingly, Kingsville was pushed to 5 sets by UTPB, then lost in 4 at West Texas. That sees both Kingsville and WT also sitting on 4 losses.

Here’s the league standings as we head into the final week of the first half of the season.

Monday

We started with the usual stats talk that we normally do on Mondays. On the plus side, our defenses is performing well. We’re among the top teams in the league in terms of opponent hitting efficiency. Our block is a definite factor there, as we entered the week 3rd place in the LSC rankings in blocks/set. Unfortunately, we have struggled mightily in attack. Over the weekend we managed a measly 21% kill rate, and for the conference season so far we stand 10th of the 11 teams in hitting efficiency. That’s not the sort of thing that earns a team many wins.

We reviewed video of our weekend attacks with the players. In particular, we identified a few key places where we feel we can make improvements. Overall, though, it was mainly about taking more aggressive swings. Our hitters seem to have been more tentative in recent weeks. Need to get back to the high and hard swings that featured in our attack earlier in the season.

Practice focused on these things, though it was a fairly short and low intensity affair. Our medical issues continue to mount. Our 2nd setter still has her broken finger in a cast for a couple more weeks. Setter #3 was waiting for clearance to play after her concussion. Of course, our freshman OH remains out long-term due to her knee injury. For this particular session we added our senior MB with shoulder issues. On top of that, our junior was out sick.

We began with some servers vs. passers, then shifted to a more attacking focus. The rest of the session featured a variety of games aimed at stimulating aggressive attacks. We made some good progress in certain areas.

Tuesday

We took a break from conference play with a home match against Lubbock Christian. They finished 2nd in the Heartland Conference last year and came in to the match 4th in that league. We played them at their place in 2016, losing a close 5-setter. This was one of the non-conference matches we play to help influence our NCAA South Central Region ranking, since Heartland is part of that Region with ours.

This definitely wasn’t a pretty match. Both sides made their fair share of errors and gave up runs of points at times. That led to a split during the first two sets, both of which were only decided by two points. In the first we allowed them to come back after getting a large lead. In the second it was us who came back, but could not finish it off. From there, though, we coasted to relatively easy wins.

Our defense was again solid, holding LCU to just an .076 hitting efficiency. They only scored on 23% of their swings and we tallied a dozen blocks. Our service game was solid generally, though we could have made fewer errors. We had three players rate 2.0 or better and we scored better than 60% of the time when each served.

Offensively, we were better than in recent matches. We got kills on around 35% of our swings. Our freshman MB had a really good match, hitting .643, while our senior OH lead all hitters with 19 kills. We could have done with a few less errors as our efficiency was a bit below .200, but you could see we were trying to make the improvements we talked about on Monday.

Wednesday

After the match the night before, we didn’t want to go to hard in practice. We started with video review. Each of the coaches took a position group – MBs, OHs & RS, DSs – and went over clips from the LCU match. I was with the MBs. We focused on timing. It made timing issues very clear for them. They could easily see the difference between their good swings and their less powerful ones. The pin hitters also focused on timing with respect to their sets, keeping to the theme of the week.

Practice itself focused on those pin hitting timing elements. Basically, we just did serve receive to attack vs. a block and defense. As a second phase, we added an attack to also work on things from the transition side of things. All together we were on the court not much more than an hour.

Thursday

We carried on in this practice the themes for the week. That means working on offensive timing and getting back to aggressive attacking. We started off with Brazilian tennis as our warm-up. From there we shifted into an out-of-system game to work on high, hard swings. We shifted from there to more in-system work using the same type of pass-to-attack drill we did Wednesday. That rolled into 6 v 6 action.

We started with a variation on 22 v 22. In this version we gave a team a win big point if they scored on a right side attack during the initial rally. We also whistled any rally dead and awarded a point to the other team if there was a failure to cover. Otherwise, it was normal rules. After a couple of games of that, it was on to a standard game with a bonus. If a team turned a cover ball into a successful attack, they got a bonus point.

All in all we were quite pleased with the attacking play. Definitely more aggressive than we’ve seen in recent times.

Friday

We did an early practice before hopping on the bus. Most of it was carry over from the work we did earlier in the week – namely focusing on attack timing and aggressiveness. We started with Speedball back row 4s as a kind of warm-up. After that we did a hitting drill initiated by a serve where our OHs and RSs had to attack areas of the court successfully with netting. Basically, that was about reaching high and staying away from hitting to Zone 6.

Next up we did rotation-based receive to attack. We made it competitive by splitting the team into 3 groups of passers and hitters and giving them four serves in each rotation. Group with the most kills (not playing the ball out) won. This was followed by full 6 v 6 play in a repeat of Thursday’s 22 v 22 variation. We wrapped up with some servers vs. passers.

We left campus at about 10:00am for the long trip south. All together it was about 11 hours. That, though, included a stop for an early dinner at the home of one of our seniors who lives along the way. Always nice to get a home cooked meal during your travels!

Saturday

The last match of our first time through the conference was at Kingsville. They finished 3rd in 2016 and were picked to repeat that in the preseason voting. After defeating Cameron on Friday, they entered our match at 5-4 in LSC play.

All in all, while we lost 3-0, I was not overly dissatisfied with our performance. The first set wasn’t great. In particular, we just could not stop their offense. After that, though, we definitely stepped things up. Sets two and three were both quite tight. Our serving gave them problems and we were attacking more aggressively than we’ve done. We got our kill % back above 30%, though still need to push that even higher to have real success.

That said, the annoying thing is that we continue to have stupid “Who’s ball?” type of moment. We’re more than 20 matches into the season if you count the ones we played in Argentina, and there are still times when dumb stuff happens because of confusion about responsibility or players simply failing to do their jobs correctly.

Should JV and Varsity practice together?

Should JV and Varsity practice together? That’s a question a visitor here recently wondered.

For clarification to non-US readers, in school volleyball the varsity team is the 1st team. The junior varsity (JV) team is the 2nd team. Usually, the JV team comprises younger players. For example, at the high school level, the varsity team is usually mostly juniors and seniors (3rd and 4th year students), while the JV team is mainly freshmen and sophomores (1st and 2nd years). That is not a hard and fast rule, though. Talented younger players often play up on varsity. Also, In some places there is a team just for freshmen.

Back to the question.

There are two ways of thinking about whether the JV and varsity teams should practice together.

Should JV and Varsity practice together, but separate?

In some places there is enough gym space to allow both the varsity and JV to practice at the same time on their own courts. By that I mean the varsity is one one court and the JV is on another.

On the plus side, practicing side-by-side conserves time. There is also the possibility of working with all the players at the same time on some specific thing. For example, you might want to work on the same technique for serve receive passing. The two teams would practice separately, for the most part, but you could bring them together for collective instruction as needed.

The problem with the two teams practicing in parallel is the added demand for coaching attention. If it is a situation where the head coach overseas both teams, they have to split their attention between the different courts. And in the case where the JV team has their own coach, it means that person won’t be able to spend much time with the varsity team as an assistant.

Should JV and Varsity practice together on the same court(s)?

This is something I did after a fashion while coaching at Exeter. You can read about it in my coaching log entries for that period. I suspect this is something more likely to be thought about by coaches at smaller schools, or with fewer athletes. I was only dealing with about 14 players total rather than say 24.

In any case, one big advantage to varsity and JV practicing together is the modeling the older players do for the younger ones. The JV athletes get to see first-hand the sorts of technical and mental approaches being taught and what will be expected of them as they progress. This can also be said to be a plus for the side-by-side situation discussed above. Similarly, the ability to work on one thing across both groups all together is a potential benefit as well.

The major drawback to working both sets of players together is the difference in skill levels. If there is a significant gap, it can be a major challenge to run worthwhile practices. You won’t have much trouble challenging the JV players. It’s pushing the varsity athletes that is the bigger difficulty – especially in a situation where the JV players are “drill killers”. Not only does the varsity not get the quality of reps it needs, but they can quickly come to resent having the JV there. That’s never a good situation.

A possible solution

Individual skill training is the area where it’s easiest to merge groups of differing skill levels. The trick is making the exercises you use not reliant on collective performance.

For example, you wouldn’t want to have varsity and JV players together in a serve reception drill where they have a collective goal of reaching some number of good passes. Most likely that would lead to the varsity pulling most of the load and the JV tending to make it take longer. Better if each individual has their own objective. Not only does that avoid intra-group frustration, it can also stimulate a more encouraging environment. Even more so if you structure things in a way that sees the varsity “coaching” the JV.

Then there’s the more game-like activities. Here you have to be very careful. Make sure the JV players are only asked to do things they can do at a reasonable level. Don’t ask them to do something that they can’t do well enough to contribute meaningfully. If you do, it’s not going to be a very productive exercise for anyone. It’s very much the same sort of approach you need to take if you’re thinking to play any kind of A-team vs. B-team type of game.

The bottom line is that you can have varsity and JV practice together in some ways and if you set things up properly to be able to challenge both groups at their own levels.

What does out of system mean in volleyball?

What does out of system mean in volleyball? This is likely something most regular readers of this blog know, but not everyone else does. Someone came here with exactly that question in mind, so let me provide an explanation.

In volleyball, a team is fully in-system when the serve receive pass or dig is good enough that the setter has all of their attacking options available. From a statistical perspective, that means a 3-pass in the 0-3 scale (or a ++ in the ++/+/-/0 system described in this post). In other words, the setter can set left, right, or quick to the middle.

You could also say a team is in-system with a slightly lower quality pass or dig. It’s not as good as on a perfect pass, but the setter still has multiple options.

By contrast, a team is considered out-of-system when they pass or dig poorly. This generally leads to the setter having only one setting option. If the first ball is poor enough, someone other than the setter must take the second contact.

There is also the case where the setter plays the first ball. Regardless of how well they dig the ball, the fact that someone else then takes the second contact means the team is out-of-system.

So basically, out-of-system means either the setter cannot play the second ball or only has a single setting option.

Why is this important?

Because it is very likely that the team’s offense is less effective when out-of-system. The sets are not as accurate or consistent. They offense does not run as quickly, and as a result there is usually at least a double block facing the hitter. That is why one of the strategies you will see is to intentionally attack the other team’s setter. That automatically puts them out-of-system, making a good return attack less likely.

Hope that makes things clear. Let me know if you have any questions.

Coaching Log – October 9, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

The Lone Star Conference standings weren’t really all that much more clear after the weekend’s results. Notable was West Texas losing to both Western New Mexico and Eastern New Mexico. Also, Kingsville dropped a pair of 3-2 matches at home to Angelo and Tarleton. At 5-1, Tarleton topped the league going in to the new week, and is in a strong position given who they’ve beaten already. Below there, the next eight teams are within 2 losses of each other.

Monday

Strictly video for the team today – aside from morning weight training. We broke the team into three groups and they watched footage from different matches we’ve played so far. It was on them to critique themselves – positively and negatively – with an eye toward how we can get better.

Tuesday

Back to split team training. Both groups did basically the same set of exercises. A big focus was on improving our middle play. We also did some work to diversify the offense a bit. This was all done in the context of serve receive and defense transition.

A number of the teams in the conference played non-conference matches this night. They all won, which was good.

Wednesday

We started the session with split group work. While the OHs and DS worked on some serve & pass, the MBs, RS, and Setter first did some blocking, then worked on offensive connections. A 6 v 6 game followed. In this case, only the pin hitters could attack, and they had to swing cross-court. Every time a rally ended we gave the winning team a down ball, but mixed players around every so often. That kept them from wearing down in what was definitely an up-tempo game. We played to 25, then switched it up so the attacks had to be line – or line/6 – for another game.

After that we did a kind of offense vs. defense game in rotations. On side served every ball. Initially, they played first to three points based on simple rally wins. The receiving team could not rotate until they won one of these mini games. To make it a bit tougher, after a while we shifted to wash scoring. After the initial serve rally, we initiated a free ball to the serving team. One team had to win both rallies to earn a point. The games were still to 3 points.

Thursday

We did a session of maybe 1 hour and 40 minutes before hopping on the bus to start are weekend road trip. We did a lot of serve and pass interspersed with 6 v 6 play. For the first part of practice we only had one middle, so we needed to give her some breaks.

We did two versions of game play. One was a variation where one side received free balls and attacked at a defending team. The defensive side got 2 points for a stuff block and one point for a good dig-set-attack sequence. They didn’t need a kill, just a good swing beyond the block. We went for time, then flipped the attacking side. There were two total rounds, with the team accumulating the most points as defenders winning (offense got no points).

The other game was the wash drill I mentioned above from Wednesday’s session. We focused on the rotations in receive that featured our freshman MB. That was to keep working on developing her connection with the setter on different sets. Also, she continues to need to improve her spacing.

Friday

It was back on the road for a match against defending league champions Angelo this day. They came in 3-3 in conference. Despite that record, they clearly represented a significant challenge. They were #16 in the national poll and featured the best offense in the conference by the numbers. What we found out during warmups was they had three players who were either starters or regular contributors out due to injury. That shifted them from primarily a 6-2 offense to a 5-1.

We should have been able to challenge them, but we came up short. At times we hardly looked like we’d ever played together before. We served them well, and had them scrambling often, but just couldn’t take the chances we were given. Our offense was pathetic, hitting at just .053 in terms of efficiency.

Saturday

Back to Tarleton for a match-up with last year’s runners-up. They came in at #15 in the national poll. Here too we discovered the opposition had suffered a key injury. Their All-American OH sustained a foot injury the night before in their win over Cameron.

We came in with a MUCH better attitude and took the match to them. In particular, our block made a big impact. We had 5 or 6 in the first set alone, and ended up with 13 overall. Despite the fact they had more than double our kills in the first set, we pulled off the win. After that, though, it was down hill. Offensively, we were even more impotent than we’d been the night before. Both our middles hit negative. This is definitely a major concern, though we were pleased to see that our starting OPP is getting more aggressive in attack.

Coaching Log – October 2, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

The uncertainty of where teams rank in the Lone Star Conference remains after more interesting weekend results. One of them was Cameron beating Western New Mexico on Saturday after Western beat us Friday. Angelo grabbed wins at both West Texas and UTPB, so there are no longer any winless teams. That loss by West Texas means every team also has at least one loss. Very interestingly, Kingsville beat both Commerce and Texas Woman’s at home.

This is setting up for a VERY interesting LSC season!

Every team has played at least four matches now. Statistically, we rank 5th in hitting efficiency and 3rd in opponent efficiency. We’re 4th in kills/set and 1st in opponent kills/set. In terms of blocks, we are currently 6th in our per set average, and 1st in opponent blocks. For serving, we are 2nd in aces/set, though we’re 8th in aces suffered. We’re 4th in digs/set and 7th in opposition digs. All in all, not a bad. We can certainly get better, but it suggests a competitive team.

Monday

We again started the session with a stat review. Then we moved on to talk about the next evening’s opposition. Once we got to work, there were two major focus points. One was better spacing for our Middles on their quick attacks. The other was minimizing errors without getting too conservative. We focused on the latter via the scoring system we used.

First up was an out-of-system game (first ball initiated to the setter). Errors resulted not only in a point for the other team, but also a point deduction for your own side. We played that one to 15.

The second game was a normal one. In this case, though, if a team made an error their score reverted to 0. We played to 8.

Tuesday

This was our away match against our travel partners, Cameron. They came in 1-3 in conference and 3-8 overall. After finishing bottom of the league with only one win in 2016, Cameron replaced their coach. The preseason expectations, however, were for more of the same in 2017. They did, though, just beat Western NM on Saturday.

Interestingly, unlike most teams running a 5-1 offense, Cameron have been employing a formation where the MB leads the setter rather than trailing. It’s a formation that lacks some flexibility in serve receive. That can be overcome, though, if you have the right mixture of personnel. It definitely gave us something different to look at and deal with.

This was a very disappointing match, resulting in a 3-1 loss. In many ways it was similar to how we played on Friday. Against a team where we really just needed to hit basically half a court with our serves we missed 11 – several at bad times. Our offense hit at a season-worst .106 efficiency thanks to being at basically 20% errors. Our middles combined to hit negative. Mentally we were just all over the place with how we played and our decision-making. It was extremely frustrating to watch.

Wednesday

We meant for this session to be a shorter one, but it didn’t really end up that way.

Before practice we made the decision to go right into things without much in the way of “warm-up” activity. That was to get them out of their comfort zone and to make them realize they can play without everything being just so. That’s not to say we made them play without any warm-up, of course.

We started them off with Brazilian 2-ball tennis. As usual, the energy was high and the players were competitive. From there we jumped into 6-v-6. We repeated the “back to zero” game from Monday.it took a while for one team to finally get to 8. Missed serves were definitely a killer. Unfortunately, while blocking our second string setter suffered broken pinky finger.

Then things got tough. We did an offense vs. defense exercise we’ve done a couple times before. It’s one were the defensive side needs to demonstrate discipline in movement and being set before contact and covering their attackers. We keep feeding balls into the setter on the attacking team until the defenders reach their goal. The first few rounds went fairly well. Then we hit a bad one. It went on and on and on. Players on both sides were exhausted, which just make things harder and harder. There was a serious mental breakdown on the defensive side. We had a long group chat after about how we have to fight through that sort of situation and beat the drill.

We finished up with a last 6 v 6 wash exercise. One team received a serve. If they won that rally, the serving team attacked an out-of-system ball at them through Position 4. If they also won that, they had another OOS ball hit at them from Position 2. Winning that rally earned them a point. If the lost a rally anywhere along the way, the sequence restarted at the serve. Our major focus for this last exercise was middle hitter spacing on quick attacks, to continue a theme for the week.

Thursday

After a scouting report session ahead of Friday’s match, we began the session with the competitive version of the cooperative cross-court hitting game. We included our middles as blockers to give them some work on better closing their blocks. Offense vs. defense followed, with a focus on middle/left attacking vs middle/right blocking. The last bit of game play was a standard 6 v 6 using “bank your points” scoring.

Unfortunately, we didn’t make it all the way through the game. Our third string setter took an elbow to the head that sidelined her for the remainder of the session. She was eventually diagnosed with a concussion. We wrapped things up with some pressure serving.

Friday

Back home for our next conference match, this time against Texas Woman’s. Preseason voting put them at 8th this season, one place ahead of us. They came into the match at 2-2 in the LSC and 4-8 overall. Several of those losses, though, were against strong teams. In their prior match they lost in four to Kingsville.

This match was night and day different from Tuesday. The energy was far, far better. No uptight start to the match for a change. We played a very clean, efficient match. Our serves kept them under constant pressure, with six aces against 8 errors. We made only 9 hitting errors in 98 swings, and got a solid 37 kills for a .286 efficiency. By contrast our opponent hit only .104. Not surprisingly, we won 3-0.

This was MSU’s first victory over TWU since 2010, and the first at home since 2009.

Saturday

Commerce was the foe this day. They were picked to finish 4th in the preseason poll after coming in 5th in 2016. They entered the match at 3-2 in the conference and 7-7 overall after beating Cameron the night before. We saw them the first week of the season at the Tarleton tournament where they played the same schedule we did. Their results were comparable. They defeated Cameron 3-1 on Friday.

Unfortunately, we did not repeat the performance of our previous match. Commerce came in ranked top in the conference in blocks/set, and for sure that prowess played a part in the match. We had our troubles offensively, only hitting for a .114 efficiency. The biggest issue, though, was a lack of fight. We didn’t have any, really, until the third set. Had we made fewer hitting errors in that frame, we might have extended the match. As it was, we ended up going down 3-0.

The only bright spot was that our middles both hit pretty well and got their share of digs. That’s a part of our game that needs to reassert itself if we’re to improve going forward.

Additional news

You may recall that during warm-ups before our first home match of the year our freshman OH went down with a knee injury. She did a lot of damage, including tearing her ACL. So she’s done for the year. On the plus side, her spirits are good and reports about her rehab pre-surgery and prospects for recovery after are quite good.

Game Scoring System – Bank Your Points

Want a way to encourage your team to fight to win long rallies? Or alternatively, want to encourage them to extend a rally rather than go for a kill when it’s not really a good opportunity? Here’s a scoring system that could do the trick. You can use it for normal 6 v 6 play, and also for small-sided games.

Here’s how it works. After the ball is served, you count how many times it crosses the net during the course of the rally. The team which wins the rally gets that many points added to their score.

Let’s walk through an example. The receiving team attacks the ball and the serving team digs it. That’s one time crossing the net (serve does not count). The defenders then attack back, making it two net crossings. The count goes up to three when the dig rebounds back over the net as a free ball. The serving team then gets a kill on the attack which follows. The attack is the 4th crossing, so four points to the serving team.

Or you could choose not to count the final attack. Your call. I think you get the idea.

Here’s something you can also consider. One thing we generally would rather not see is our servers missing after a we’ve just won a long rally. To bring that sort of thing into focus, you could add a little wrinkle to the scoring. If a player misses their serve, the other team is awarded the value of the last rally win. This is not very penal after a quick sideout, but very much so after a long exchange.

Depending on your level and/or particular focus for the game, you could start each rally with something other than a serve. Also, you could chose not to count free balls in the net-crossing tally. No doubt you can think of your own variations.

Player-to-coach feedback from a team exercise

At the beginning of 2017 the Midwestern State (MSU) head coach gave everyone on the program – players and coaches – a task. Based on the book One Word that will Change Your Life, we each had to come up with a word that represented something in our life that we wanted to improve or otherwise focus on. The was about both volleyball and life. I chose the word consistency. For me that was mainly a personal thing.

The year 2016 was a big transitional one for me. I started the year in Sweden coaching profession, but then rather abruptly left. After spending about a month in Long Beach, CA, I then moved to Texas to coach at MSU in a very new locale, with new people, and in a new situation. I never felt like I settled things down into a good routine for myself personally. That is what motivated my word choice.

I was not thinking about volleyball when I picked my word – at least not directly. I believe I do a good job of being consistent with my teams (see this Volleyball Coaching Wizards podcast). It’s a focus point for me, and my prior teams gave me positive feedback about it. More consistency in my personal life, though, would no doubt have positive knock-on effects to my coaching work

Fast forward to the early part of the 2017 volleyball season. The head coach brought us all together one day for an exercise. We were all given a sheet of paper and told to put our name and our word at the top. We then passed everyone’s papers around the room. One by one we wrote positive comments on each person’s paper about how they were doing with respect to their word – and perhaps more broadly.

Below you can see the front and back of my sheet. You’ll also notice that someone decided to give me a new title, and several smiley faces were added. Not sure who did that, but “Papa” has now stuck. :-/

Naturally, the comments focus on consistency. After all, that’s my word. I was glad to see that they also appreciated other things I try to bring with me, though. Knowledge is obviously one of those, as you’d hope if you’re coaching! The other is a sense of humor. Volleyball is a game. Being part of a team should be fun. We shouldn’t take things – or ourselves – so seriously that we forget that.

I hesitate to call this proper feedback. After all, it was specifically intended to be positive. That makes it pretty one-sided. Still, it at least helps one to see if certain things are getting across.

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