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Creating Game-Like Volleyball Drills

In her book, Coaching Volleyball Successfully, Sally Kus shares how to make drills game-like. This is something which gets a lot of attention in coaching circles these days. Here are those steps.

  1. Identify the skill.
  2. Go back one play.
  3. Start the drill there.
  4. Perform the skill.
  5. Perform the next in the sequence.

So, for example, if you want to work on OH attacks you could do something like this.

  1. A serve or free ball from the other side of the net is initiated to a player.
  2. That player then transitions and attacks a set ball.
  3. The player then moves to their defensive base at the net.
  4. The player executes a block (perhaps with some initial footwork).

The idea of using these more complex drills is for the player to execute the skill within the context of how they do it during a match situation. The player sees what they will see before the skill (ball coming across the net, coming from a teammate, etc.), executes the skill, then does something immediately afterwards.

Admittedly, these types of drills run slower than the simple ones (like hitting lines). Aside from training the players to play the ball as they do in real life, though, these drills allow you to train multiple skills. This is done either with one player or several of them. Clearly, when working with beginners you’ll use less complicated drills, but even with them there are plenty of ways to make things game-like by having the ball come from across the net, having them execute a follow-up skill, etc.

Maximize plus points, minimize minus ones

I once had a conversation with a former men’s club teammate who is now an NCAA Division I head coach. His name is Steve. We talked about what it takes to consistently win sets, and thus matches. It revolved around the idea of points scored vs. points given away.

Steve had done some off-season research reviewing a season’s worth of conference matches. He found that teams scoring 18-19 points of their own through kills, blocks, and aces frequently won. The rest of the points from there to 25 would come from opponent errors. That’s hits into the net or out of bounds, ball-handling errors, missed serves, etc.

Now, this was a very specific set of figures related to a certain level of play. These figures don’t apply to everyone. For example, at lower levels one would expect teams to commit more errors. That means fewer positive points are required to win your average set. It is worth doing some research to figure out what the plus points/minus points ratio is like at your level for winning vs. losing teams.

The reason it’s worth having this kind of information is it lets you figure out what sorts of things you need to prioritize in your training and/or match preparation. If, for example, you aren’t getting enough plus points then you’re probably going to have to work on strengthening your offense somehow. That’s because kills are the biggest factor there. If scoring plus points isn’t an issue, then the focus might need to be on avoiding the minus points. That means reducing errors. You should also look at keeping the other team from generating plus points. This is done through better defense, or perhaps more aggressive serving.

These are the sorts of things which should go into the on-going assessment process for competitive teams. I always look at them for the teams I coach.

Game: Points for Passes

Synopsis: This game features 6-v-6 play, but with a major focus on serve receive passing, and by extension serving.

Age/Skill Level: This game is suitable for all levels.

Requirements: two teams, full court, several balls

Execution: One team starts with 32 points, and the other with 0. The 32-point team severs every ball and scores a point on any rally win. The 0-point team also scores on any rally win, but also gets points based on the rating of each serve receive pass based on the 3-point scoring system (so a 3 pass earns them 3 points, a 2 pass earns them 2 points, etc.). The teams play to 40, meaning the 32-point team only needs to win 8 rallies. An ace counts as a rally win, but missed serves are washes. The receiving team rotates each time they win a rally. The serving team does a front-to-back switch on each of their rally wins, but ensuring that servers change up.

Variations:

  • You can change the starting point for the serving team to widen or narrow the gap the receiving team needs to overcome.
  • You can change the winning score up or down to require the serving team to win more or fewer rallies.
  • There can be negative consequences for multiple missed serves – especially in a row – from the same server.
  • This could be used just as easily for small-sided games.

Additional Comments:

  • I saw this game at University of Rhode Island training when I was there.
  • Of the six times I saw this played (three different sets of match-ups played with each side being the receiving team and serving team once), only once did the receiving team win. That came when they averaged a 2.0+ pass rating. Thus, good serve receive passing is a major focus point.
  • There’s a way to make this a 2-sided game (both teams serve rather than just one) outlined in the post Points for Passes Variation

Drill: 4-person Diagonal Pepper

Synopsis: This is a good warm-up drill which includes all ball-handling skills and lots of movement, plus encourages player communication. (Saw this one while watching the University of Rhode Island training)

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

Requirements: Four players, half a court, 1 ball

Execution: Begin with 1 player in a corner of the court and 3 players in the opposite corner. The one player standing hits a ball to the group of three. The player who digs the ball immediately runs across to where the hitter is. One of the other two players sets the ball to the other of the duo, then runs to join the other two. Finally, the third player hits the ball at the three now in the opposite corner, starting the cycle again.

Variations:

  • In order to give the setter more time to get across the court, the hitter can take the set ball and do a self-set before hitting the ball to create a little delay.
  • Higher level players could be required to jump hit and/or jump set
  • This could be done for time or for some number of successful dig-set-hit executions (consecutive or otherwise).

Additional Comments:

  • The variability of who takes the first ball and the requirement of the other two players to have to decide which takes the second ball.
  • The defenders should also be encouraged to call for the ball when the hitter is getting ready to send the ball their way to provide an auditory target.

First day of the US volleyball adventure

As I mentioned a little while back, I’m in the US for the rest of August and the early part of September. That started at the University of Rhode Island on Wednesday, where the team is in the early part of their preseason. I think they got things going with 2-a-days on Friday. If you’ve read my bio, you may recall that I mentioned coaching at URI. That was back during 2000-01. The head coach from then is still running the program and one of my former men’s volleyball club teammates from my URI undergraduate days is the Associate Head Coach these days.

It was a really enjoyable day being at the old haunts, watching the team go through its two training sessions and getting to talk lots of volleyball stuff with my fellow coaches. I got plenty of ideas for drills and game scoring systems which I’ll share in future posts. I’ve got a couple more days hereabouts before heading off to L.A. for the next part of the adventure.

Game: Second Chance

Synopsis: This game variation allows players to work on their short-comings by repeating skills after making an error.

Age/Skill Level: This game is suitable for beginner and intermediate players.

Requirements: two teams, full court, several balls

Execution: Think of this as a game which allows players a redo on their mistakes. Play proceeds as a standard scrimmage up to the point where a player makes an error. At that point the coach initiates a ball which requires that player to repeat the skill. If the do so successfully the play carries on. If not, they get another chance. This continues until the successful execution happens.

Variations:

  • The play can continue for a certain amount of time or a certain number of points.
  • If you use points you can have them count only on the initial play when the error was made, or on each play inclusive of the errors.
  • You can rotate or wave players through.

Additional Comments:

  • If you have the space, the players, and an available coach, you could sub a player out when they make a mistake and have them go off to another court (or area) where they are required to do X number of reps of the skill successfully before being allowed back in the game.
  • You may want to narrow the focus to specific types of errors, like hitting the ball into the net or out of bounds or not passing the ball to target – depending on your area of focus of that session.
  • If you don’t have some kind of play-ender (like a clean kill), this game will end up being continuous. That’s good for conditioning, but you’ll need to have plays end at some point to change things up and keep your front row players (especially) from becoming overtaxed.

Accidentally finding a useful new scoring system

Last week I ran a small training session what ended up being a trio of players from the Devon team that won South West Championships this year and a quartet of junior aged girls. The skill levels are obviously quite widely separated in a situation like that, so there are limits to what you can do in terms of drills.

We did some fundamental work on ball-handing and serving and passing, then moved into game play. Then I moved it to game play and had the Devon players go against the four girls, playing on half a court to encourage rallies.

Obviously, we’re talking about teams which were quite imbalanced. In order to make things more competitive, I introduced a scoring twist. The young team used standard rally scoring, but the Devon team could only score on kills. Aside from keeping the game more competitive, there were some interesting side effects to using this system.

  1. Devon quickly started serving easily because they could only score if the ball came back over the net, allowing them to run a transition attack.
  2. Devon also started hitting the ball harder and attacked the ball from positions they perhaps would not have done so otherwise.
  3. The girls realized quickly that they needed to adapt their defense to deal with more aggressive play, which got them putting up a much more effective block to slow the Devon attack down.
  4. The girls were also freed up to play more aggressively than they otherwise would because they couldn’t lose points for making errors.

The girls ended up winning 25-23. One of the Devon players and I were commenting afterward that the 23 kills they got in that game were more than many teams get in multiple games (even matches at certain levels).

I didn’t have all the side effects in mind when I decided to do that split scoring game. I was just looking for a way to even things out a bit (we later mixed the groups for a regular game). As I watched the play, though, I could see what was developing and it definitely gave me ideas for how I could use it in other training session, with Devon or other teams, in the future.

In particular, one of the issues we had with the Exeter Uni women’s team was putting the ball away. We played very good defense, which let us compete with even the top teams, but just couldn’t get the kills we needed. Using this kind of scoring system for scrimmage play in practice could be effective in working on more aggressive attacking since there are no consequences for making hitting errors.

Parent decisions on volleyball coaches

An interesting SWVA post derives from a Sports Coach UK piece. The subject was how parents decide about the coaches their volleykids play for, and by extension the clubs they join. The information comes from a parent survey. Unfortunately, they only asked a few people, or they got few replies. I don’t really think 11 responses is enough to draw good conclusions, but let’s go with it.

The article says parents use personal experience and word-of-mouth to judge coaches. This is seen as problematic in that it fails to take into account qualifications.

Now, I can understand why there would be concerns about parents not taking certifications and such into account. This is especially so when governing bodies are involved in the business of certifying coaches. I would make the following point, though. Having a qualification only means you’ve gone through the requirements to earn it, That may indicate a certain level of knowledge about the sport and about coaching. It doesn’t necessarily mean that person is a good coach, however.

I think it’s totally fair for parents to use word of mouth to learn about a prospective coach for their child. You’d do the same sort of thing for other services, so why not coaching?

The problem comes with parents who don’t know the sport. This is obviously a significant consideration for volleyball in the UK. It’s not a cultural institution. As a result, most parents don’t know enough about the game to understand whether a given coach’s team is playing in a manner which indicates good coaching. This tends to mean choice of club and coach ends up driven by other considerations (cost, location, etc.).

Personally, as much as word-of-mouth can be a very good resource – assuming the data sources are reliable – I think probably the best thing for a parent to do is watch a coach in training as well as in a match situation. This will provide an indication of their temperament, teaching style, and other things not necessarily related to volleyball which parents can assess better than sport-specific stuff.

What are your thoughts?

Proposed FIVB rules changes ahead

There’s a lot of talk going around the volleyball community globally about the rules changes FIVB is looking at potentially institute in the future. Here’s one bit of analysis (and opinion) from The Art of Coaching Volleyball, and another from former US national team coach Hugh McCutcheon.. Volleywood has a post which tracks the recent changes regarding new rules for the current cycle, which includes the rule against taking serves overhead that was going to go in, but got postponed.

Here are some of what is being talked about by the powers that be:

  • Require servers to land behind the end line
  • Back row attackers must land behind the 3-meter or 10-foot line
  • Eliminate open-hand tip
  • Eliminate overhead serve receive serve
  • Penalties for a missed serve
  • Free substitution – any player can sub for any player at any time
  • Any contact with the center line is a violation
  • Any net touch by an athlete is a violation
  • Decrease the number of points per set

Personally, I’ve long been opposed to the rules changes allowing center line touch/penetration and net contact. Aside from it being a question of player safety, I also think body control is a key skill in volleyball and letting players swim in the net and such detracts from that.

The requirement that players land behind the end line on a jump serve probably wouldn’t have much impact (except in gyms where there isn’t all that much area behind the line to start with). Not allowing back row attackers to broad jump to hit things like BICs would be meaningful, though.

I’m not sure about dropping the open-hand tip. Sounds like it’s mainly intended to eliminate setter dumps with the idea being they are rally killers. I may be OK with it on that basis (though my immediate question is why not just play better defense?), but I’m mixed in terms of taking the tip away from hitters. Some suggest a roll shot can be used instead, which is fair enough, I suppose.

On the penalties for missed serves, I understand that they want to cut down on what is a pretty dull play and reduce the amount of time players just go back and bomb away. Missed serves are already penal, though, and not just in terms of giving the other team a point (see my post about when not to miss your serve).

In terms of free subs, you can see something moving in that direction in play in the US women’s collegiate game – which always seems to play just a bit differently than everyone else. There they use the libero (who can serve in one rotation) plus have 12-15 subs (it seems to change periodically). That obviously creates a lot of specialization opportunity. There is something to be said for having the best possible line-up on the court at all times for the highest level of play. I’d want to see exactly how this would be instituted, though. I personally would like to see the core rotational nature of the game being maintained.

And of course there’s the no overhead passes on serve receive rule which was to go in this year but his been pulled back for further review. I personally like cleaning up serve receive passing to get rid of the doubles, though completely ruling out the overhead pass seems unnecessarily restrictive. The hard bit will be having a whole generation of players who’ve come up playing with their hands suddenly having to change.

What about you? What are your thoughts?