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My August Volleyball Coaching Developmental Traveling Plans

Back in Summer 2013 I planned a trip back to the States for August. In part it was my plan to get in some academic meetings in support of my PhD work. Mainly, though, I was looking at it as an opportunity to reconnect with the US collegiate volleyball game. I was away from it since the end of 2006. I watched a number of matches on television in the interim. Aside from attending a UCLA vs. Standford match in September 2011 and a Harvard vs. Princeton match later that season, however, I was out of the gym entirely for nearly 6 years.

A big reason for that was the feeling I needed to concentrate on my new corporate job for a while. My concern was I wouldn’t be able to resist the coaching urge if I didn’t stay away. Even doing so, there were times when I felt the pull to get back into it. Given how strongly everything came back when I started coaching the Exeter teams in 2012-13, I think I was correct in my assessment.

Now, with the coaching bug fully infecting me, I looked at this trip back to the States as an opportunity for some professional development and networking. The plan was to spend a couple of days with a few different teams as they go through their pre/early-season training.

Two significant programs on the plan
The two schools I knew from the start I’d go were the University of Southern California (USC) and Long Beach State (properly known as California State University at Long Beach – CSULB). You may know Long Beach State from one of it’s most prominent alumnae, Misty May-Treanor. She was a setter in her collegiate playing days.

The coaches of those two programs are among the legends in the game. Mick Haley at USC rose to prominence when is University of Texas team became the first non-West Coast squad to win a volleyball NCAA Division I championship. He won two titles at Texas, and then two more at USC. He had with four years as coach of the USA women’s national team (up to the 2000 Olympics) in between. Before Texas he was a very successful Junior College coach as well.

Brian Gimmillaro at Long Beach has 3 national championships to his credit as well, and has long been one of the leading lights in coaching education. He readily shared his methods through videos and seminars for many years. His 1998 team became the first ever to go undefeated for a whole season (36-0).

I also arranged to meet up with Stein Metzger. That year he coached the UCLA Sand Volleyball team and was an assistant for the women’s indoor team. Stein played on the pro beach tour and has coached a number of other pros (including Devon’s own Denise Austin).

Others to be determined
A few other schools got added to the list later, but that was all still in the works.I provided updates when things got finalized. I also did post updates from the road to share what i saw and heard.

Needless to say, I was really looking forward to this trip – and not just for the SoCal sunshine! 🙂

Drill: Continuous Transition

Synopsis: This drill is great for working on the transition from blocking to attack, with a definite conditioning element involved.

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

Requirements: 6+ players (including 2 setters), a full court, two tossers, lots of balls

Execution: Start with two groups of three front row players on either side of the court at the net. There will be a coach with a supply of balls on each side in the back court. One side starts the drill by transitioning off then net. A ball is tossed to the setter and the offense is executed. If the ball gets by the block on the other side, that team transitions and attacks. If the ball is blocked or hit into the net, the same team transitions and attacks once more.

Variations:

  • The drill can be run for a certain amount of time, a set number of balls, some goal objective, or on a scored basis as a game.
  • You can run this with the setter as one of the front row players, or having to penetrate from their back row position.
  • If sufficient players are available, they can be used in place of the coaches to toss.
  • You can have a fixed play for each side, have players audible their sets, have the setter call a play, or have a/the coach call a play.

Additional Comments:

  • Done properly, this will be a very tiring drill, so make sure to account for that when deciding how long to run it for and how many rotations to put players through – especially middles.
  • Especially when working with less advanced players you’ll want to make sure you’re paying attention to their transition footwork.
  • Because of the required tempo of the drill and close proximity of lots of running and jumping players at risk of having a ball underfoot, it is imperative that ball retrieval is handled quickly and efficiently.
  • The inclination may be to include defensive players into the drill to dig and/or pass the first ball to the setter rather than for it to come from a toss. In most cases this probably won’t work as it will tend to slow the drill down and introduce a lot of timing variability as if the ball isn’t dug, or is dug poorly, a ball will still have to be introduced on a toss.

Volleyball Games: Using Bonus Points Effectively

There is a major focus in volleyball coaching circles these days on making training as game-oriented as possible. That means moving away from rote mechanical training and incorporating the types of visuals, movement patterns, and situations one will see in a match. Obviously, nothing is going to be more game-like than actually playing. Let’s face it, though. The scrimmages and other volleyball games we do in training oftentimes drift away from the developmental focus we would like to have for that particular session.

There is a way to have your players concentrating on those key things, however.

By introducing bonus points, you can get your players focused on executing whatever skills or plays you want. For example, a bonus point for a 3-pass (see Scoring Serving and Passing Effectiveness) will have them concentrate more on passing, while a bonus point for a stuff block will get your blockers more intent on their task. You can have bonus points for more complex sequences like quick attacks or combination plays, or for scoring on the first ball in serve receive.

You can also have point penalties for undesirable plays. For example, if you want to curb the amount of 1-arm digging or passing that’s happening, a point deduction can be assessed for each time it happens. Maybe your team isn’t calling the ball enough. If so you can subtract points for failure to do so. Or if you want your players to send free balls only to zone 1 you can asses a deduction when it doesn’t happen.

Here are some things to think about in terms of employing bonus/penalty points in your games:

  • You can vary the points based on the amount of focus you want to give something – more points for key areas of focus, fewer for lesser ones.
  • You can have multiple bonus/penalty items in your game, but don’t get carried away. The players can only focus on a couple of things at a time effectively, and you can only track of so many different things, so keep it relatively narrowly defined.
  • Be careful of unintended consequences. You don’t want you players forcing things to try to earn bonus points. Make sure you structure your point system to avoid that.

You’ll know you have your player’s attention on where you want their focus when they start yelling out bonus point scoring in the middle of plays. That’s probably not the best situation in terms of their game concentration, but at least you know you have them thinking about the right things. 🙂

Book Review: The Volleyball Debate by Vinnie Lopes

Vinnie Lopes, who runs the Off the Block blog focusing on US men’s collegiate volleyball, recently authored and published a book titled The Volleyball Debate. The book is essentially a history of the Ball State men’s volleyball program. For those who don’t know, Ball State has long been a dominant program in the Midwest, one which has compiled over 1000 victories. Only one other men’s volleyball program has reached that mark – UCLA. Unlike UCLA, though, Ball State has yet to win a national championship (Penn State remains the only non-West Coast team to do so on the men’s side).

After a bit of back story history about the early years of both volleyball and Ball State, the book begins with the initial formation of the men’s volleyball club during Don Shondell’s time as a Ball State student (he graduated in 1952). Things really get going, though, with Shondell’s return to Ball State as a faculty member after his military service. This is when he re-formed the club, which had gone away in the interim. The story then focuses on the period from 1960, when it played its first matches, until 1964 when after a couple of years of battling the team was granted varsity status. It ends with a bit of a look at the history of Ball State men’s volleyball since then – kind of a where are they now view.

Don Shondell went on to coach the team until 1998 when he finally retired. During that time he compiled over 750 wins. He was also actively involved in volleyball management and development, having helped form the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) and acting as its first president. He co-edited The Volleyball Coaching Bible, which I reviewed earlier.

Probably the most notable of Shondell’s former players is Mick Haley. Haley is currently the head women’s coach at USC, but has a long history of coaching success going back to his days as a junior college coach. He was the first coach to lead a non-West Coast team to a National Championship when he coached the University of Texas women to the title in 1988 (I remember watching that match). He also coached the US women’s national team in the 2000 Olympics.

In terms of my feelings about the book, I think if you like reading about the history of the sport, you may find The Volleyball Debate interesting. As a I noted, it has a bit about the general history of volleyball in the US as well as the specific history of Ball State men’s volleyball. For my peers in U.K. volleyball where the fight to develop the sport is ongoing, there is probably a fair bit to which one can relate. That could make it an interesting read in and of itself.

I must make one negative comment about the book, though. It is in massive need of an edit. I’m not talking about there being loads of typos and such, as there really isn’t. Rather it’s the frequent repetition of things already mentioned which bothered me. I came away with the impression that the chapters were written as separate essays, then put together. The author is also clearly biased toward showing Ball State volleyball in the best light, and his enthusiasm for the subject is pretty obvious, but that’s understandable given he’s an alumnus of the university (though not as a player).

Volleyball Set Diagram

Below is a volleyball set diagram. It outlines the different sets we used when I coached collegiately at Brown, and how we defined them. This is based on a system popularized by the USA men back in the 1980s. They divided the net into 9 zones of 1 meter each. On top of that they added set heights ranging from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest (fastest). The zones and heights were then combined to provide a two-digit specifier for each set. Thus, a standard high set to the outside (left) hitter is a 14 – zone 1, height 4. A middle quick is a 51 – zone 5, height 1.

Now, for practical purposes most teams do not use the two digit calls in play. They tend to shorten them up to call sets quickly in a fast-paced play. In our case, we used letters to call the 4 different types of quick sets we used. You can see below how we did this, as well as the back row zones system we used based on colors – white, brown, and red from left to right as you’re facing the net.

Sample volleyball set diagram

volleyball set diagram

This, of course, is just one system and one volleyball set diagram. There are loads of variations. In my coaching at Svedala in Sweden, for example, the “rip” was equivalent to the 31 from the chart above. A 3 was the 32 set, which is pretty common usage. Our A was a 71 (back quick). We called the “hut” a “go” (which is what a lot of teams call the fast outside set these days). In contrast, at MSU the “rip” is a back row attack in Zone 1.

I have always found, though, that the underlying 2-digit base structure makes it very easy to work out different types of naming approaches or hand signals.

Volleyball Conditioning – A Sample Program

Here is a sample volleyball off-season/summer workout program. It comes from my days coaching at Brown and was given to our players in 2004 for their use during the summer months. To provide a sense of timing, we began our pre-season about August 25th each year, so the program is timed out with that in mind. Obviously, this is just one example of a workout plan, and perhaps not the best for any given team or player. It does provide something from which to work, though.

This vballsummer spreadsheet features two tabs. One is weight training. The other is conditioning. The latter actually features a calendar layout with what to do each day of each week, including the weights program. The other tab provides the specifics of each week’s weight training work.

The BIKE_WORKOUTS spreadsheet is exactly what is sounds like. It includes eight workouts ranging from 15-25 minutes with specifics for how each section of the ride should be done.

The General_Conditioning document describes all the running, agility, and other types of exercises which are indicated in the vballsummer spreadsheet.

Here’s the introductory letter our strength coach at the time included with the packet. It provides a bit of advice on implementing the program.


SUMMER WEIGHT TRAINING

The attached spreadsheets outline your summer lifting schedule. The weight training is divided into 3 x 4-week training blocks. The basic design of the program is a 3-week build-up followed by 1 week reduced load and/or active rest. As a general rule, when the repetitions decrease, the loads lifted should increase for your core exercises, however, you should pay close attention to the assigned percentages as well.

The percentages given for each session are for your major exercises only and are a percentage of your max. If you don’t know your max for a specific exercise, refer to the Nebraska Scale in your manual. This scale allows you to estimate your max by doing a heavy set of 2-3 repetitions. Choose a weight heavy enough that you can only get 2-3 good reps, then refer to the scale to estimate your 1 rep max. Use the number given on the scale to calculate your percentages for the summer program.

Please remember; as the program progresses, your strength will improve. If possible, you should re-test your estimated max halfway through the program and recalculate the weight. If the percentage for the session is 90-95% and your sets are easy, you should add weight and re-test your max.

If you have any questions about the program or cannot remember a specific exercise, ask a trainer at the gym where you workout. If you are uncomfortable performing a specific exercise and cannot get proper instruction, please try and substitute another exercise that targets the same muscle group.

There is a training calendar provided with an example of the optimal training split for your summer program. However, in the instance that you want to train on weekends, it is acceptable to spread the workouts over 7 days instead of just 5. Never lift weights more than 2 consecutive days without a day off in between. It’s OK if your training split is different from the calendar provided you rest properly and get all the sessions completed within the week.

SUMMER CONDITIONING

The training calendar also includes options for summer conditioning. There are 4 conditioning sessions listed along with your weight training. The basis of most of your summer conditioning is interval training. You can follow these workouts precisely, or use them as guidelines for training. If you have more than 2 club sessions each week in addition to this program, substitute the 3rd session for one of your conditioning workouts.

Descriptions of the summer conditioning sessions are provided in the summer manual along with several other options. Bike workouts, volleyball (club) workouts and spinning classes can be substituted for conditioning sessions as long as you are working with the principles of interval training in mind. However, these workouts were designed specifically for your summer training and should be followed as closely as possible.

If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me by email at anytime. GOOD LUCK AND TRAIN HARD!

Game: Hard Drill Game

Synopsis: This is a game which offers the benefit of working on back court attacks and defense against them in game-like fashion with a cooperative element which focuses on control and a competitive aspect which brings in going for points.

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

Requirements: 6+ players, 1 ball, court

Execution: This game is based on The Hard Drill. Each play begins with a cooperative back court exchange which goes for 3 good pass-set-hit sequences. Once that number has been reached the rally becomes competitive with the teams now going for the kill. The winning team gets a point and a new play begins. Play a game to a number of points which fits the allocated time in your practice plan.

Variations:

  • For a wash scoring variation you could make the winner of the rally have to serve for point.
  • You can vary the number of good pass-set-hit sequences required base on the level of your team and/or if you want to play for a larger or smaller number of points.
  • This can be played with either 3 or 4 people on the court per side, though from a competitive perspective probably is best suited for 4-person teams.

Additional Comments:

  • One thing to think about in how you run this drill is how to arrange the players if you’re going to have 4 people on the court with one at the net. Normally in The Hard Drill you would have that person be just the setter. By introducing the competitive element with this game, though, blocking becomes a consideration. As a result, you may want to use middle blockers at the net, which allows them to work on blocking the back row attack and also to work on taking the second ball.
  • Obviously, it make sense to first introduce The Hard Drill.

Drill: The Hard Drill

Synopsis: This is a team pepper type of drill which works on back court attacking and defense, controlled attacking, and keeping the ball in play during scramble situations. It also has a mental toughness element.

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

Requirements: 6+ players, a full court, 1 ball

Execution: This a cooperative back court exchange variation on pepper. The players are in two teams of three, all playing back row. The drill progresses as a game of back court 3s, but with the objective of keeping the ball in play and getting 10 successful pass-set-hit sequences before the ball hits the floor or an error occurs. If that should happen, the drill restarts with the count at 0.

Variations:

  • A 4th player can be introduced in the front row as setter
  • The setter can be required to jump set
  • Players can be required to rotate positions each time they send the ball across the net
  • If there are extra players, they can be subbed in in either a rotational or contact fashion (e.g. sub goes in for the hitter)
  • You can vary the number of successful reps required based on the level of the skill of your team.
  • With advanced teams you can require that the 10 reps be completed consecutively, meaning the ball only crosses the net 10 times. With less advanced teams you can allow for faulty sequences where a team cannot execute a proper pass-set-hit, but keeps the rally going. In that case, you count the good pass-set-hits and don’t go back to zero unless the ball hits the floor.

Additional Comments:

  • Make sure to enforce that successful reps only count if there’s a dig, a clean set with hands, and a legitimately attacked ball (no soft swings).
  • Allowing a team to not have to get all 10 reps in a row will result in faster completion of the drill if time is a concern. It will also let you get the players to focus on keeping the ball in play when they are in scramble mode.
  • Because there can be considerable frustration with having to restart on errors (or discontinuities), mental toughness can be a developmental aspect to this drill.
  • You may have to put a time limit on the drill to keep to your practice plan.
  • There is a problem solving element to this drill in that it behooves the players to make sure the best hitters are the ones getting most of the swings and the best defenders are the ones receiving most of the hits to keep the play going. This thinking is something you may have to hint at if the ball is just being shared around.

Problem Solving: Setting out of the middle

The first volleyball team I ever coached by myself was the Southeast Boys Scholastic team in the Massachusetts Bay State Games. You can think of the Game as an annual mini Olympic type of competition. The six regions of the state compete against each other in a wide array of sports. In volleyball it means running team tryouts, having weekly training sessions for a month or so, then competing in the 3-day tournament during the month of July.

I’d never even seen Bay State Games competition, so I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into from that perspective. I’d had enough exposure to high school boys volleyball to at least have a general idea of what to expect. I didn’t, however, know the specific level of play there would be among presumably the better players in the state. I did know that I had some talent on my team, though.

Then I heard my setter sprained his ankle the week before the tournament.

Forced to Re-Think the Setting Position

I had just one pure setter, so this forced me to have to rethink my whole line-up plan. Naturally, the big decision was who would take that role. I had two candidates. One was a kid named Josh who set and hit outside in a 6-2 system for his high school. The other was Greg, who was primarily a middle, but also set.

I only had two proper middles, but in the end I decided to have Greg set rather than Josh. Why? Because Josh was a real stud player who could potentially get two touches on the ball each time it was on our side of the net. If he set he’d only get one touch.

Of course, using Greg as setter in a 5-1 offense left me with only one viable middle. As a result, I had to rethink how to set my line-up. I decided to have him set out of the middle when he was front row. That way he could still perform the middle blocker function. While in the back row he played normal setter defense (right back), while my right side players played middle back defense.

Believe it or not, we won the gold medal with this line-up. Just goes to show, you can win with non-standard line-ups. This is why it’s so important for coaches to have a firm understanding of the different types of systems teams can play (see a book like Volleyball Systems & Strategies). It helps adapt to situations and be able to maximize the talents of the team.