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Volleyball Coaching Concept: Wave drills & games

Wave drills in volleyball are quite useful when you work with larger groups of players. They’re also good in high intensity drills. They can help avoid excess fatigue.

Basically, wave drills involve grouping players. You then rotate them through positions in a game or drill together. Doing so can effectively minimize down time in the form of players sitting out. You can also use them to move players into a less demanding role after a high intensity sequence. For example, MBs shift from fast-paced front row play to serving or defense.

A game like Winners 3s is a simple version of a wave structure. At the end of each point, one group of players comes off while another group comes on. A third group may also shift from the challenge side of the court to the winners’ side.

Another variation on this is breaking the team in to cohorts of three. They then play a 6 v 6 game during which those cohorts are rotated through front and back court positions. For example, a new wave comes on in the back court position on one side after each rally ends. That then cascades the waves through. It pushes the back court cohort on the other side of the net off as the front court group moves into their place. This allows you to have players on for 4 straight rotations. They are only off a minimal amount of time (1 rotation if you have 5 groups, 2 rotations if you have 6, etc.).

You can also wave on errors. Say you have 18 players. You split them into six groups of three. Three teams are assigned to each side of the court. Two teams are on and one is off waiting. The teams play through a rally. One of the cohorts on the losing side is replaced by the cohort waiting on the sideline based on some rule, like which group was at fault for the point lost.

I’m sure you can think of numerous other waves ideas. In fact, you probably use them in an ad hoc way right now. When you flip front and back row during a drill or game (like in Bingo-Bango-Bongo after a big point), that’s a form of a wave. The advantage of formal the wave rotations, however, is players are responsible for automatic waving. That means you don’t have to stop things to do it. This saves time and keeps the training intensity up.

Drill: Twenty One

Synopsis: This a good drill to work on all kinds of ball-handling skills and to encourage communication and teamwork. There’s also an element of mental toughness involved because it can be very frustrating.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for all skill levels.

Requirements: 3 players, one ball, a net

Execution: This is a multi-player follow-the-ball type of drill much like a passing shuttle. The drill starts with the players doing a forearm pass-and-follow where when a player passes the ball over the net they follow under the net and get in line behind the player there. The three players pass 21 consecutive balls. They then switch to setting/over-head passing, following the same sequence of 21 balls. When that is complete they switch to pass-set-tip, again going for 21 straight executions. If at any point along the way the group makes an error, they must start all the way back at the beginning with passing.

Variations:

  • The last part can be dropped for beginner groups
  • The last part could be switched to pass-set-down ball as a step down from pass-set-tip to make it a bit easier for more advanced beginner groups.
  • Roll shots could replace tips in the pass-set-tip
  • For advanced teams the pass-set-tip could be changed to pass-set-hit (essentially over the net pepper).
  • Lesser skilled players can be allowed to finish each section of the drill individually. In this case an error would just require them to go back to the beginning of that section rather than all the way back to the start.
  • Intermediate and advanced players should be required to make all the transitions continuous such that pass #21 is directly followed by set #1 and set #21 goes right into pass-set-tip #1.
  • In the pass-set-tip section you can either have the player who has just tipped the ball go under the net to set, or you can have one player stay setter (switching back-and-forth) for 7 balls, then having the tipper for that 7th ball go under the net and set for #8.
  • This drill can be done with 4 players, in which case the last part should either be a tip-then-set as described above, or the players just stay on their side. In the latter case, the tipper becomes the next setter and the setter backs off to become the next passer/tipper.

Additional Comments:

  • The requirements of the drill is that all the first 21 balls be forearm passes, all the second 21 be sets, and all the last 21 be proper forearm pass, set, tip. You must make that clear to the players and monitor to ensure that they abide by it.
  • Require the players count the reps out-loud so you can hear it and be able to monitor things.
  • Really encourage communication throughout the drill.
  • You may need to put a time limit on the drill to ensure it doesn’t take up more time than you want for all groups to finish.
  • Make sure those who finish support those still trying to do so.

Book Review: The Volleyball Coaching Bible

The Volleyball Coaching Bible is a book which got me excited right away. It features contributions by several experienced, successful coaches. There are 24 chapters authored by as many individuals. The come from the ranks of Juniors, high school, collegiate, and national team levels – even beach. Once I dug it I found my excitement justified. There are a lot of golden nuggets in this book.

Book structure

The editors broke the book down into five sections:

  • Coaching Priorities and Principles
  • Program Building and Management
  • Innovative and Effective Practice Sessions
  • Individual Skills and Team Tactics
  • Game-Winning and Tournament Winning Strategies

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Skills & Tactics section is the biggest. It has nine chapters. They cover all the major facets of volleyball skills and systems. The Program section comes in second with five. Three of them focus on college, club, and high school volleyball programs in specific. The Practice section has four chapters. They cover practice planning, drill development, teaching methods, and volleyball conditioning.

In the technical chapters there are things some readers will no doubt disagree with in terms of mechanics, focal points, or whatever. That’s going to happen in any book where such things are discussed. I personally really liked the setting chapter. It spends lots of time on the mental side of setting and what it takes to be a good setter.

There are specific drill sections included in the Serving and Blocking chapters. A couple of the other skill chapters mention drills as well. This is definitely not a volleyball drill book, however.

The bookend sections each have three chapters. The Priorities one focuses most on the mental and behavioral side of coaching. That’s in terms of setting goals, handling yourself with the various people and groups you will interact with along the way. The last section is on Strategies. As it’s name suggests, it focuses on maximizing your teams in competition when game day comes.

Considering Contents

Naturally, when you talk about a book comprising contributions from multiple authors you have variation in writing style and voice. That’s certainly true here. Some are quite well written and very engaging, while others are less so.

It must be noted that the book was published in 2002. As a result, in places it reflects the shift from sideout to rally score taking place in US volleyball in that period. Different levels of play adapted rally scoring at different times. As a result, there are references to sideout scoring in places. This is especially in the sections on offense. This may make you think the material is dated. Certainly, there are a couple of points made which are not really relevant in the modern game. They are minor, though, and do not detract from the overall value of the book.

Admittedly, there are a couple of chapters under the Program Building and Management section with a very US-centric view. That may make them a bit less useful than other chapters for those outside the States. Even here, though, there are some bits worth latching on to. John Dunning’s discussion on how the focus of a team or program must be the players is one. Tom Pingel’s  is a very detailed (and action oriented) look at how to develop a successful club program. Yes, the latter has the US Juniors system as its foundation. In my experience, though, the details and issues involved in running clubs are common no matter where you go.

One quirky element is the drawings used to show the mechanics of the skills discussed in those chapters – at least some of them. They are quite reminiscent of the style of illustrations from much older coaching books.

What I really liked

One of my favorite chapters is Pete Waite’s “Competitive Edge”. It is largely dedicated to addressing the mental and emotional side of training, competition, and general player/team management (Waite later authored Aggressive Volleyball).

Jim Coleman’s “scouting & evaluating” chapter could have your head spinning. It addresses volleyball statistics. It does so in ways I’m sure most coaches have never really considered them before.

Personally, as a more experienced coach I found the chapters focused on planning, philosophy, and management the most interesting and valuable. Were I less experienced, the skills and systems chapters would no doubt be of considerable value. Of course, then the other material might be less so. As a result, perhaps the best way to look at The Volleyball Coaching Bible is as a long-term reference. It can be used to different ends as one develops as a coach.

Save time by naming your volleyball drills

You will notice that the volleyball drills and games I post here to share with you have names. You may or may not like them and think you can come up with better ones. If so, go for it. They are being shared so you can incorporate them into your training if you find them useful, and I fully expect in doing so that you’ll make any adaptations you deem necessary.

Getting back to the point, though, there is a very specific reason for my assigning names to drills and games – one which I encourage you to emulate if you aren’t already do it.

By giving each drill a name and using it with your players you will make your training sessions go much more smoothly. Nothing grinds a well-tempoed practice to a halt faster than having to take several minutes to explain what you want for the next drill. Obviously, that can’t be avoided when introducing a new drill (which is why the start of the session is often the best time to do it), but for those you use fairly regularly, having a name means the players know exactly what you want and can get on with things. There may be those who through either being new or being dense don’t know what’s going on, but the rest of the squad will get them sorted out so you can focus on what’s happening.

Now this doesn’t mean you can’t make modifications to adapt the drill to concentrate on your priorities for that session. As long as they don’t change the basic functioning of the drill, you do what you like. For example, you could say something like:

“We’re going to do The Belly Drill now, but since I want to focus on quick attacks today we’re going to add a scoring element. A team will get 1 point for a kill from a quick attack. We’ll keep going until one team gets to 5 points.”

In this case I’m not doing anything in terms of altering the primary way The Belly Drill functions. All I’ve done is created a modification to get things focused on something I want the team working on that day. The players should have no problem understanding what the drill’s about because it will function the same as always, but now as a goal.

If, however, the modification you are thinking to make to a drill will alter the basic structure of that drill, then I’d argue that you’re now talking about something different. In that case you should give it a name of it’s own. You could perhaps use the first drill’s name as a reference point when describing it to the players, but you don’t want to get into a situation where every time you use it you’re saying something like “We’re going to use that modification of Drill Z that we did that one time before where the passers go there instead of here, and the hitters are on the other side of the net, ….” Just give it a new name. It’ll make everyone’s life easier.

There aren’t many of us volleyball coaches who have all the time in the world to run our trainings, so we need to use them as efficiently as possible and waste as little time as we can. Naming drills is one way to help that time be spent more on action and less on talking.

And definitely feel free to change the name of drills you find here on this site, in books, etc. You want them to be memorable and easily associated by the players with the drill, so maybe even get the players involved in naming them.

Small-sided volleyball games

A long time ago someone in soccer decided it was better for younger athletes to play small-sided games. I recall this shift in my youth when we kids were playing in our town league. My sister was among the first to play 7 v. 7 on a smaller pitch (field) rather than 11 v. 11 on a standard one, which my brother and I had both played.

We’re now at least starting to see a similar sort of focus in volleyball. Volleyball England is dedicated to using small-sided games (primarily 4s) in the younger age groups. Schools in England are going that route, both in terms of teaching in Physical Education classes and in inter-scholastic competition. John Kessel of USA Volleyball is a big proponent of mini volleyball.

Small-sided games for everyone!

Small-sided volleyball games aren’t just for young and/or new players, though. They can be quite useful in many ways for training more experienced groups as well.

And I’m not just talking here about running something like Winner’s 3s, which many teams do. That is certainly a game played with fewer players, but it’s played on a full-sized court in most cases. What we’re looking at here is smaller teams on a smaller court. For example, British school kids play 4s on a badminton court.

Consider the purpose of this. Fewer players means more touches per player, while the smaller court means less area for them to cover leading to more rallies (the latter was the reason for FIVB shrinking the beach volleyball court). The net result is lots more contacts for all the players.

I’ve used small-sided games a great deal in training both the EUVC and Devon sides, and no doubt will keep doing so moving forward. In addition to all the added touches, I also like that working on a smaller court forces players to be more precise in their serving and attacking, and to do more problem-solving in terms of finding ways to score when there’s less court to aim at.

The other nice thing about small-sided games is that you can integrate just about anything you want to focus on into the play. This makes them extremely flexible.

For example, if you want to work on the quick offense, or conversely defending against a quick offense, you can introduce bonus points for kills from quick attacks. If you want to work on hitting against a potentially well-formed block you can have teams playing 4s use a 3-up/1-back formation, putting 3 potential blockers at the net against each swing. And of course you can use some kind of wash scoring system as well.

These days making training as game-like as possible is a major focus of volleyball coaching. Small-sided games offer the advantage of being able to do just that, without having to sacrifice contact frequency.

Drill: Run Serve Receive

Synopsis: This drill forces players to pass under pressure and when fatigued. It has a conditioning element and is good for working on mental toughness.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for all skill levels.

Requirements: A court, half a dozen balls, 6+ players.

Execution: Three players start in passing zones on the court, with three players at the net as their targets. A coach standing at about mid-court on the other side of the net serves to the first player, who passes the ball, then sprints to the end line, and back into position to receive another serve. Meanwhile, the coach serves the ball to the 2nd, then 3rd players, who do the same thing. Then it’s back to the first player once more. Each player must make 10 good passes to their designated target, that player keeping count. When a player finishes the drill they go out and their target enters, with another player taking over as target. Go through until all players have completed the drill.

run-serve-receive

Variations:

  • For beginning players the coach can do an underhand free ball as the serve.
  • If there are sufficient numbers, players can be used as servers rather than a coach.
  • The more advanced or athletic the group, the further back you can make them run after their pass, if space permits.
  • The number of successful passes can be adjusted for the skill level of the players.
  • You can use a single target rather than three for the sake of location consistency and ball circulation, but you would likely still want one player assigned to each passer for the sake of keeping count.

Additional Comments:

  • Make sure the pace of the drill is such that players don’t have to stand around in the court waiting to pass a ball for very long after they’ve done their run. Good ball circulation and feeding of the coach is part of that. So too is serving on rhythm rather than waiting for each player to get reset. This will force them to hustle back.
  • You will want to make sure players are sprinting and not just jogging, which make require introducing some kind of penalty, such as deducting from their tally or making them go back to zero.
  • There is no excuse in this drill for letting balls drop.

Calling the ball

I’m hoping this post with generate a bit of conversation. I’m very curious to hear what people have to say on the subject.

The widely accepted philosophy seems to be that want to hear someone making a play on the ball call it. They should say something along the lines of “Mine” or “Got”. And if there may be another player coming for the ball as well then they should keep calling until they either make the play or have someone call more forcefully and/or beat them to the spot.

This is not a universally held view, it should be noted. For example, Mark Lebedew is not a proponent of players calling the ball. But that is a discussion for another time.

Assuming you want players to call the ball, I’d like to hear your view on the following. The area of debate among volleyball coaches seems to be what the other players should or should not say when someone else is taking the ball.

My personal philosophy is that if you are not taking the ball you simply open up to the one who is. You are thus ready to cover them in case of a shanked pass. You can also help them with a line call where appropriate. What I don’t want to hear is “You” or “Yours”.

Why do I not like “Yours”? For two reasons.

The first is that very often players go off sound rather than words, at least initially. By that I mean while passing you lock in on the ball. You’re not so focused on what’s happening around you. As a result, when someone says “You” the word may not register, though, the sound will. If the serve is such that you anticipate a call from your partner and you hear a noise from them, it may cause a hesitation. This is exacerbated when the player is already somewhat tentative.

The second reason is one of initiative. I want the calling to be a proactive thing which is part of starting the act of playing the ball, not a passive one of letting someone else do so. Also, if the other player isn’t already moving for the ball and you call “Yours”, it’s probably too late.

Of course much of the issue with ball calling can be sorted out by simply establishing the rules as to who has responsibility for the seam.

By the way, I always like to hear players call the ball three times with increasing volume and conviction – “mine, Mine, MINE!”, “out, Out, OUT!”. This way no one is going to miss the call and in the case when a player is calling the ball for themselves is reinforces to them that they are taking it in their own psyche. Much better than a little “got” peep we often hear.

So what’s your philosophy? Leave a comment below and let’s talk about it.

Volleyball Coaching Concept: Wash Drill

Basically, a wash drill in volleyball is one which forces a team to either do things in a row, or at least in bunches. If the team does so it earns a big point with the objective then being to accumulate some number of total points or to beat another team. If the team fails to reach the objective it is a wash and no point is given, or alternatively, the opposing team gets the point.

There are a few primary variations you’ll find in wash drills. They include

X before Y – One team has to get X number of points before the other team gets Y.

X out of Y – A team must get X number of points within Y number of attempts (or could be done on time).

X in a row – The team must score X number of “little points” in a row to get a big point – or at least the opportunity to get a big point.

There is also the variation of wash drills where achieving some objective doesn’t immediately give a team a point, but merely gives them an opportunity to earn a point. The bingo-bango-bongo game is a variation of this in that it uses an “X in a row” core approach, but requires the team to win a service rally to actually get the point.

Wash drills in volleyball can be used for any number of purposes. For example

  • An “X before Y” variation could be used to make for more competitive games between teams of unequal levels, such as starters vs. non-starters.
  • An “X out of Y” type of game could be employed to pit hitters against each other in an attack vs. defense drill or game.
  • A variation of “X in a row” could be used to focus on executing a skill or tactic, such as successfully running a quick attack.I

If there’s something you want to work on with your team there’s probably a way you can do it with a wash drill. The advantage of this approach is that it gets players and teams focusing on not just singular executions, which is the case with many skill development drills (think serve receive or hitting line drills), but instead on execution repetition. This, of course, is much more realistic in terms of what will be expected in games.

Don’t limit your players with negative thinking

Once upon a time I worked with Denise Austin at a clinic for a group of local Exeter P.E. teachers in England. It was on the subject of teaching volleyball to their students.

By the way, this is something every experienced coach should stand ready to do to help grow and develop the sport.

The things we talked about in terms of what to do to introduce volleyball to beginners is the subject of other posts. For the moment, though, I want to focus on something which happened at the clinic. A comment made by one of the teachers irked me.

It went something like this.

“They will never be able to do that.”

I don’t remember specifically what we were looking at when that was said. It doesn’t really matter, though. Statements such as this are self-fulfilling. So long as you think that, the player(s) will not be able to do whatever it is because you won’t allow it to happen. You will probably not provide sufficient opportunity to properly attempt development of that skill. Alternatively, you will actively (though perhaps subconsciously) sabotage it to prove you’re right. That leaves the players to develop the skill themselves (if they are so motivated). If they succeed, they make you look like an ass.

Our job as coaches is to push players to achieve more than they think themselves capable. We’re there to keep them growing and developing. We are not there to put limits on them.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

I once had a conversation with a high school coach on developing a quick attack with her team. This woman was generally a pretty good coach, at least by the measure of others in that state. In this area, though, she was extremely hesitant. Her excuse for not working on middle quicks was one you may have heard or thought yourself:

We don’t pass well enough.

I could be a little more colorful with my language here. Let’s just say that excuse is complete crap. It’s not that her team consistently put the ball on target. Rather, I think the excuse is a total cop out.

Here’s why I say that.

That thinking is completely the wrong way around. A team will never pass every single ball well enough to run the quick. As I noted in my post about scoring serve receive passing, good teams target an average of 2.00 or better. That means their average pass isn’t good enough to run the middle quick. Yet those teams still train the quick attack and use it in games when the opportunity presents itself.

The goal of passing is to run the quick offense by producing as many 3 passes as possible. If you give your players that kind of focus it motivates them to pass better. If all you do is run a 2-ball (second tempo or meter ball) in the middle, then the passers have no particular motivation. All they need to do is get the ball inside the 3-meter line and around the middle of the court. The 2-ball offense just doesn’t require that much precision.

Think of a successful quick attack as the reward for perhaps the ultimate expression of teamwork in volleyball. It requires three very precise coordinated movements. There must be a good pass. A hitter needs to attack at the right time. Finally, a precise set is required. If any of those things fail, the play fails. Players at basically all levels get excited when a quick attack is well executed, and for good reason. That is way more motivation for the team to pass well. It’s much more concrete than, “So the setter doesn’t have to chase all over the court.”

And it need not be something that complex.

I helped coach 12-and-under girls once upon a time. These were kids with no playing experience coming in. Some were as young as 8 years old. Nevertheless, we taught them pass-set-hit. It did not happen in games very often, of course. As the season progressed, though, we gave them the goal of N pass-set-hits per game. Even if they didn’t actually get the three contacts right most of the time, at least they thought proactively about something more than just get the ball back over the net. And when they did get it right they were very excited. The end result was our two teams finished as regional champs and runners-up.

Heck, Denise’s daughter could jump serve with an adult ball on an adult net from behind the end line as an 11-year old. If that doesn’t tell you can players can achieve a lot if we just push them and given them the right motivation, I don’t now what will.

So stop thinking that you can’t get a player or a team to a level of development or skill. Start thinking about how you can get them there.

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