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.

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman

John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women’s team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women’s professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women’s Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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