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Tag Archive for beginner

Game: 2 v 2 side switch

Synopsis: This is a fast-paced, small-side game based on a Winners model, but with a major wrinkled that creates lots of movement and encourages player communication and problem-solving.

Age/Skill Level: This is a game for all levels

Requirements: 6+ players, full court

Execution: Play starts with 2 players on the “winners” side and two on the “challengers” side. One of the challengers serves to start the rally. The winners team has three contacts to attack the ball at the challengers, but the attack must come from the “challengers” side of the court. That means they must play either the first or second ball over the net so it can then be played for a final contact back to their starting side. Meanwhile, the challengers run over to the winners side to defend. When the winners play the ball back into the winners side of the court, they then have to do the same process (play the ball back to the challenge side and attack from there). So the ball is always attacked (or otherwise played over on a final contact) from the challenge side after first being received/dug on the winners side.

Whoever wins the rally becomes/stays the winners. The losing team rotates out and a new pair of challengers begin a new rally. A team earns a point by winning a rally when they started on the winners side. Play to a predetermined number of points.

Here’s some video of what it looks like in action. I recorded this in May 2017 during the training camp for the Australian Men’s National Team.

Variations:

  • If you don’t want to score the game you can play for time.
  • You can play with teams of 3. More than that would probably be too many people moving back and forth on the court, though.
  • If you don’t have the right player count to make fixed teams you can have each player keep individual score.
  • You can have the players stay on the ground (at least to start) if you want to use this game as a warm-up, as was done in the video.
  • You can require the teams to use all three contacts, or make them only use two.
  • For younger or less-experienced players you can require certain types of ball contacts. For example, the third contact must be a down ball.

Additional Comments:

Coaching youngsters like college players

There’s a good article in the latest edition of the AVCA member magazine, Coaching Volleyball, by Leon Blazer titled The Great Divide: Lessons Learned from Coaching at the Club Level. It’s written by a guy who was a collegiate coach, but who recently found himself coaching 12s for his local club. I found a lot of what Leon wrote about to not only be very good for coaching his current age group, but for older players as well. There’s one particular aspect I address in another post because it also relates to an email I received.

Here’s my one issue with the article, though. Why is he specializing these kids? At that age group they should be learning to be all-around players, not setters, middles, etc.

Sure, specialization may lead them to more wins. Blazer is clearly proud of having achieved quite a bit of success with the team in that regard. This, though, is where I think coaching them like a college team is inappropriate.

For the most part, college coaches tend to think of their team as the last stop in any given player’s career. That means they aren’t thinking about an individuals long-term development. Instead, they are focused on getting the most out of them in the present (which obviously isn’t to suggest they don’t develop them as well). This is one attitude which cannot be taken at the youth volleyball level – especially when the kids are still physically developing and you simply cannot know with any real certainty where they will be in a few years.

Were I in Leon’s place I would be inclined to do all the things he’s doing in terms of attitude, training, mentality, pushing them, etc. I would just have everyone set, everyone hit in all front row positions, and everyone play defense. In my view, this is a mandate that should be coming down from the leadership of the club – potentially even from the USA Volleyball and/or the region in which the club competes. I know Volleyball England has talked about doing something along those lines.

Game: 2 vs. 2 with a Player Net

Synopsis: This variation on Winners is a small-sided game which can be used when you don’t have a net available, especially for younger and/or more developmental players. Also potentially useful in situations where you have lots of players, but little space.

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

Requirements: 6 players, 1 balls.

Execution: Start with three teams of 2 players each. One of the team starts as the net. They stand in the middle. The other two teams play out a rally. The loser of the rally swaps places with the “net” team and serves the next point.

Variations:

  • The game could be played for time or until one team won a given number of points.
  • Depending on the amount of space available, you could configure the “court” to be short or narrow or whatever suits your purpose.
  • You could increase the team sizes to 3s, and maybe 4s.
  • Rather than switching on each rally, you could play mini games (say first to 3).

Additional Comments:

  • I saw this diagrammed on a table at breakfast by John Kessel.
  • If there is a rope or string or some other thing that could act as a net, the “net” team can hold that rather than having the rally played out over them.
  • This is something that potentially could be used in a pre-match warm-up when you only have one side of the court.

Game: Bonus Point Bingo

Synopsis: This is a game based on the bonus point idea, which means you can use it to encourage your team to concentrate on certain key areas of focus. It allows for a lot of flexibility and adaptability for varied levels of play and complexity.

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

Requirements: Court, 2 teams, 1 ball.

Execution: Start with each team choosing some number of bonus point plays/tasks they must complete. For example, one team could select quick set kill, getting a single block for the OH, and getting a soft or stuff block while the other picks forcing a non-setter to take the second ball in serve receive, getting a tip kill, and getting a high ball kill. The team that is able to do all their bonus plays first wins.

Variations:

  • You can do this in a small-sided game fashion.
  • The required bonuses could be randomly chosen, assigned by the coach, or picked by the team.
  • Multiple executions of a single play can be included, such as getting 5 good passes.

Additional Comments:

  • This game was described by US Women’s National Team coach Karch Kiraly at the 2015 HP Coaches Clinic.
  • If you don’t allow teams to know the bonus plays for each other you add the dimension of forcing them to try to figure it out to prevent the other team from “scoring”.

Drill: 2 vs. 0, or 2-Player Over-the-Net Pepper

Synopsis: This pepper variation takes the standard two-player version and introduces playing the ball over the net, putting a real premium on ball control and smart ball-handling.

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

Requirements: 2 players, one ball, a net.

Execution: This variation of 3-person over-the-net pepper begins with one player on each side of the net, one with a ball. The player with the ball (Player A) hits it over to the other player and immediately runs under to the other side. The second player (Player B) passes the ball as normal. Player A sets the ball up to Player B and ducks back under the net. Player B plays the ball to Player A, and ducks under to the other side to set Player A. And so on.

Additional Comments:

  • I saw John Kessel (USA Volleyball) describe this pepper variation over breakfast at the High Performance Coaches Clinic.
  • You could use anything that can be set high enough for players to duck under (string, rope, etc.) for a “net”, allowing you to use just about any space.

Lots of players, little space – Help!!

Yesterday I had an email come in from a reader of the blog – or at least someone who stopped by for a visit. She asked:

I am currently coaching both a 5th and 6th grade team with a total of 22 players. However, we only have one small gym to use and we must practice them together a lot. Can you help me find drills to do that will include a lot of players?

I can totally sympathize with this problem. In my time coaching in England I was frequently forced to try to manage a lot of players in a small area – especially during try-outs for the university teams. It’s definitely a challenge.

The first thing I would bring up is something I know both USA Volleyball and Volleyball England – and I’m sure other federations – are proponents of at the grassroots/beginner level (and beyond). That’s mini volleyball. By that I mean not just playing small-sided games, but also playing on smaller courts. In England they have badminton courts in basically every gym. You can generally get 3-4 in the space of a volleyball court. Using them lets you go from 22 on one court to 5-8 on each court.

In the US badminton lines may not be as readily available, but it’s not hard to create them with tape, cones, etc. In terms of nets, you can use the badminton ones if you have them, or you can create your own long net to string across the gym. The great thing about working with beginners and youngsters is that you don’t really need to be overly concerned with net height. At Exeter the beginner group of university players often trained using standard badminton height nets.

USA Volleyball has a section on ideas for setting up mini courts in their mini volleyball guide.

The other idea I would toss out is stations. Break the gym up into areas where you can have players working on different skills. That will let you get them split up into smaller groups, which serves a similar purpose to mini volleyball. Smaller groups means more touches and less time standing around. You can then have them do movement and ball-control drills/games in 2s, 3s, or 4s.

As I mentioned previously, I’m actually working on a book aimed at helping coaches maximize their available resources. Being able to deal with high numbers/limited space is part of that. I would love to hear other ideas on how to do that. If you have one, definitely feel free to leave a comment below, Tweet it to @CoachingVB, post it on Facebook, or use the contact page to send it to me.

Getting young players to communicate and move

A reader recently asked the following very common question:

I am assistant coach of Grade 8 girls and they need to come out of their shells. What drills do you suggest to help with their first pass?

Basically, this coach is looking for ways to get them to call the ball and move more aggressively to play it. I can tell you that this isn’t something confined to just to girls or just younger players. I’ve had to address it with older players and with members of both genders.

Calling the ball

Communication is all about habit. You need to develop in your players the habit of calling the ball before they play it. The only real way to do that is to have them do it repeatedly. Unfortunately, there’s no magic drill to make them suddenly start talking. As a coach you simply have to prioritize that focus. Then you need to continuously reinforce it in different ways throughout your trainings. Put them in situations where they have to cooperate. Have consequences for failure to call the ball, like not counting repetitions in passing drills, or even making it a minus. Maybe add a bonus point in a game for any time all three contacts for a team have someone calling the ball. Be creative, but most importantly make sure to consistently focus on it. If you only intermittently encourage them to talk, they will probably only communicate intermittently.

Moving to the ball

Standing around waiting for the ball to come to them is the hallmark of new players. This is something that needs to be very quickly addressed. Regular work on court footwork (shuffles, cross-overs, etc.) is a starting point. That get players used to the idea of moving and how to do it properly. The second step is to incorporate movement before playing the ball into your drills. Even if you work on the very basic stuff, you can still have them shuffle a step or two before they pass. The more you get them used to the idea of having to move prior to playing the ball, the more it will start to come naturally.

Confidence and connection

Let’s face it. A lot of what makes players quiet and tentative is a lack of confidence and not feeling connected with their teammates. To the extent we as coaches can help overcome that we speed up the process of getting them to talk to each other and come together as a team. Something I’ve found useful in that regard is the Amoeba serving game. I’ve seen quiet groups turn into a yelling, screaming bunch of players as they encourage each other in trying to beat the other team. Lots of exactly the sort of things we want to develop in our players. And I’m not just talking about youngsters here. I see the same sort of thing with my university players in England, where I’ve used the game to help integrate players from all different nationalities and backgrounds.

Playing system for U14s, and how to get them to move!

Over the weekend I had an email come in from Jason, a volleyball coach working with a young team. He asked:

1) How do I teach the girls to read the placement and velocity of the ball on a serve and have them move to the ball quickly enough? I’m finding they tend to keep their feet planted to the floor as if there was lead in them shoes…..and when they do make an effort to get there they end up leaning forward instead of getting “under” or swinging their arm out sideways from their body instead of squaring themselves with the ball.

2)Whats the best system to play with grade 8 girls?

Here are my, thoughts. I encourage readers to share their own via comment below.

Anticipation and moving to the ball on serve receive
In terms of reading placement and velocity, unfortunately a lot of that is going to come straight from experience. The best you can do is to try to get them to look at the server instead of just the ball, and think about where she’s facing, how hard she hits the ball, etc. Beyond that it’s really about each player going through lots and lots of reps of seeing serves coming at them from different angles and at different tempos to develop the anticipation and timing the same way a hitter needs to see lots of sets at different heights and angles to develop their approach and swing timing. Have them pass loads and loads of balls – and more specifically, loads and loads of balls coming over the net.

Feet seemingly pinned the floor is a problem for any coach dealing with beginning players. The mentality so many of them seem to have is “If the ball comes to me, I’ll play it, otherwise I won’t.” We coaches don’t tend to do ourselves any favors in that regard by having players work in relatively static drills – “You stand there in this position and I’ll toss the ball right to you.” For that reason it’s important to introduce movement to the ball as soon as they have the basics of passing mechanics figured out. Put them in situations where they know the ball is theirs, but they can’t be sure exactly where it will be, and then into combinations to force communication and coordinated movement.

Best playing system
My answer would be different if competitive considerations were a big factor (whether they should be for U14s is an entirely different conversation), but I am going to take a long-term development approach in answering this question, which I think is most appropriate. Volleyball England, as part of their Talent Pathway, outlines a system progression which is aimed at doing a couple of things (I bring up V.E. because I’ve actually seen the documents, though no doubt other countries have similar ideas). First, it tries to develop the most well-rounded players possible. Second, it seeks to identify and develop a large number of setters.With those two priorities in mind, the progression of playing systems Volleyball England favors is 6-6 for young players, 4-2/6-2 for the U16/U17 (Cadet) age group, and finally 5-1 when reaching the U18/U19 level.

As you ponder that system progression, think about the requirements on players – especially under FIVB rules which constrain substitutions more than is the case under some other rule systems. It’s fairly easy to think about a 6-6 basically meaning every player does all skills. You start to get partial specialization when shifting to a 2-setter system, but the setters are only setting in 3 rotations, so they still have the other front/back row responsibilities. Not only does that keep the “well-rounded” aspect of things going, but it also means having to develop several setters as you’d probably want 4 in a squad rather than the 2 you could get away with running a 1-setter system. Specialization doesn’t fully come in until the late-teen years when they are running a 5-1 (I think that is where the libero is also introduced, though I might be wrong).

All of that said, there will always be the player you can tell pretty early on will fit into a certain type of position – the really tall future MB; the short, but quick future libero; the future setter who can already anticipate play. There is room in system to start specialization in some ways a little early, but the overarching idea should still be to try to develop as much all-around ability as possible.

The more you talk, the less they train

Yesterday the university club I coach for did the first of its taster sessions for this year. This is Fresher’s Week, which is a bit like Orientation for teams back in the States. As part of it the various student organizations put on events to encourage new members to join up. For volleyball it’s a question of having them come into the gym and do some drills and games and stuff.

These taster sessions can be quite big affairs. Last year both sessions had over 100 people. That’s a lot for what we have available to us. Today we probably only had about half that number because it’s so early in the week. We have others later on that will probably be even better attended.

One of the problems with these sessions, aside from the large numbers in general, is that a sizable fraction of the players are beginners. It’s great for the sport and for the club, of course, but it creates a challenge. They need to be taught and can’t really be mixed in with the non-beginners. Actually, the non-beginners aren’t generally miles ahead of their peers, but that’s another discussion.

Rookie coach mistake

Anyway, the club is structured such that experienced members take on the role of coach for those in the lower levels – Beginners and Intermediates. One of the players who has been on the women’s team the last two years took charge of the beginner group today. She made a rookie mistake. She started by talking to them for quite a few minutes before getting them started. Coaching stuff aside, that’s not something you want to do in a taster session when you’re supposed to be selling new people on joining your club and getting involved in volleyball.

Later in the session I had a chance to talk with this player. I told her she needed to spend less time talking and more time letting the players get on with it. Her response was not surprising. She said, “But they’ll do it wrong!”

Yup. They’ll do it wrong. You know what? They’re going to do it wrong anyway. You have to let them. That’s how they learn.

I told her, do a demonstration to show them how, then let them get on with it. From there you can go around and make individual corrections. Maybe you need to bring them back to reinforce something to the group if you see most players making the same mistake. If so, make it quick and then get them back to work.

The more time you spend talking, the less time they spend training.