Tag Archive for blocking

Coaching Log – Jan 4, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

Although we didn’t have anything official going on between December 17th and 26th, that didn’t stop the organizational stuff. The Sport Director and I exchanged a number of messages about planning for Gran Prix, player stuff, and thoughts on training scheduling moving forward. As top seed for Gran Prix, our semifinal is second at 12:30 rather than at 10:00, which is probably a plus. We get 45 minutes on the court from 8:45.

Sunday
The team had coaching (in the case of the Americans) and organizational duties at the big youth tournament the club ran (it’s an annual event). Long day for all of us, made even longer by the fact that the day began before the sun came up (circa 8am) and ended well after darkness set in (around 4pm). Along the way, I found out that I probably won’t be moving into a new place any time soon. That’s fine from the perspective of it being a decent place to live, but it is problematic from a transportation perspective. I’m 6k out of town and there isn’t any regular public transit service.

Monday
We had to training in a different gym due to our normal Monday one having something else booked. We had 11 for the session – our 8 core players (now that we’ve lost our 3rd OH – though she’ll be with us next week), the sister of our American setter, a former teammate of our American OH (who happens to also have played in Sweden before), and one of the other coaches in the club who has become a regular at training to help with our lack of numbers.

My intention was that this would mainly be a fun, shake off any rust, reconnect with each other session after 10 days off. The two young players on the team actually played in Sunday’s tournament as part of the club’s U21 team – winning that age group. One of the others also got in some training at her old club while she was home for Christmas. The rest (hopefully) at least got in their workout program.

I had them start with volley tennis for something fun and competitive. After doing a bit of pepper and serving to get warmed-up, we then shifted to Player Winners. We had one group of 5 and one group of 6 for that. After about 5 minutes I had the top 3 from the 6 player court swap with the bottom 2 from the 5 player court, and ran it again. The games were played side-by-side on the same court – each going half width, full depth.

From there we moved up to another Winners variation. This time the setters were fixed. Since we had three MBs, I had them do their own winners rotation (losing MB went out, the one waiting came in). that left the rest of the group in 3 teams of 2 as the main rotation. We played on a slightly narrow court (about a meter in on each side). I liked this as it mixed the players around a lot.

We finished with two games of 5 v 6.

Tuesday
I had a team meeting before training. After warning them of consequences being forthcoming should tardiness continue (there were late arrivals), we moved on to talking about our path forward. That started with a discussion of our match against Brøndby two weeks back. We talked about our struggles in terms of dealing with the bigger block and getting our block-defense more integrated and effective.

I talked about how we’d like to push our kill % up a little bit higher as we remain a little lower than our competitors (though our error % is on par). Part of that – and dealing with bigger blocks – involved working on getting the OHs going faster. We all generally agreed that our tempo there had slowed down a bit as the season progressed, making things predictable for the opposition. We also talked about moving the OHs in and out more to make them harder to anticipate.

Blocking remains a focal point moving forward. There was a lot of talk about needing better communication between blockers and defenders and making adjustments more quickly. I mentioned my continued focus on wanting our blockers to improve on reading hitter approach angles and getting positioned appropriately.

Serving was another topic of discussion. We have done well, with an ace-to-error ratio of about 1 to 1.2, which is generally considered good. We lead the league in aces per set. I talked about working on improving our ability to take better tactical advantage in situations where we can put the other team in maximum pressure.

The other area of discussion was serve reception. Once again, the fact that we sideout very well (near 60%) despite not passing all that great came up. Statistically, we rank #6 in the league in that category (for that those numbers are worth). I told the team that we’re doing a good job communicating and making adjustments. We now need to work to improve on the technical side of things.

We had 10 for training. After prehap, I had them split into two groups. Setters and MBs in one, and the rest in the other. They did 1 v 1 2-touch pepper to warm-up. I then had the setters and middles working on block to transition attack on one court. The others I had do what was basically a 6-person pepper over the net (3 per side). The focus, though, was on the passing/digging side of things. They had a target of 50 perfect. Once they completed that, I had them do some proper serve receive, with the passer hitting a back row set so they were passing with hitting in mind.

After that, I brought the group together for some target serving. I had them working on serving 1 to 5 and 5 to 1.

The rest of training was working on transition play, 6 v 4. The 4 received a free ball to start each play. If there wasn’t a rally from there, I attacked a ball at the 6 so they could play one out. Only the initial ball counted toward the score, which we started 18-20 in favor of the 4. We went through all the rotations, and repeated rotation 4 twice more because we struggled there. I believe the 4 side won each game – or at least almost all of them – which is not overly surprising given the advantage of starting with a free ball. Doing it again I think I’ll start with a different score.

Wednesday
Believe it or not, we has 12 players for this session. The funny part is that 4 of them were middles and we only had 3 outsides. My main focus priorities for the session was working on the tempo for the outsides and blocking with the MB and RS players.

As generally is the case, the team had weight training before the session. We did partner over-the-net pepper (3-touch) for a couple minutes, then I shifted that to a 2 v 2 competitive 2-touch game (half court), which I rotated a couple of times.

From there I split things out. One of the setters and the OHs, plus the libero, went off on one court to work on speeding up the tempo of the outside sets. Basically, they did a pass-to-hit drill. The other setter and the rest of the players when on the other court to work on blocking. I wanted to focus particularly on blocking against the outside attack at the pin and on inside balls.

I’m not a huge fan of doing blocking work with hitters on boxes, but that’s what I decided to do in this case, largely because of what would be coming next. I had one of the box hitters at the pin and the other a bit inside. I stood behind the blockers (MB and right), and signaled the hitters which one to hit. We had the video delay set up so the blockers could look at themselves on the big screen. About halfway through, I had the setters switch.

I then brought the group back together. We did a kind of 5 v 6 game. On one side where the two OHs, the libero, a setter, and an RS attacker. The other side had six on the court, plus a server. Basically, the idea was to take advantage of having the extra size with the spare MBs (plus a male OH) to have the pin hitters working against the bigger blocks. The game started with the serve from the 6-person side and they played out the rally. The 5 continued to work on the set tempo and I instructed the setter to focus on getting more sets to the RS attacker, particularly in the back row, which is something that I’ve wanted to see more of to extend our width. On the 6 side the MBs and server rotated around each five balls.

From there we went into Bingo-Bango-Bongo to work on transition offensive in an effort to improve on the point scoring side of things. We did all 6 rotations (4-1-5-2-6-3). We actually had to move on from 2 because it was taking too long, so we circled back to it at the end. Still couldn’t finish it, but it was time to wrap things up. The players were clearly fatigued, which wasn’t surprising given the lifting they’d done beforehand.

Thursday
This was a morning session after a tough night one on Wednesday, so I kept it fairly low intensity. I even lightened up on the jumping aspect of the pre-hab exercises. I had them do some target serving at the beginning, then shifted in to pass and serve. A couple of the players did take a few swings during the process. From there we did some digging from hitters on boxes (line ball, cross ball). The last part was back row Winners 3.

Friday
No training this day. We originally had a session scheduled, and nothing on Thursday, per our normal schedule. Our Sports Director moved things around to give everyone a chance to enjoy their New Years.

Saturday
We did a “player’s choice” session. One of the players had to work and another was having a bit of a knee niggle, so was refraining from jumping. That left us with 6 fully involved as unfortunately we didn’t have any guest players. After we did pre-hab, I gave the players a chance to decide what they wanted to do. Not surprisingly, they opted for serve & pass to start things off. After doing that for a while, they played a couple of back row games with fixed setters. The second string setter set for one side and one of the middles set the other side. The last part of the session was spent playing Winners 2s.

Thoughts, observations, and other stuff
While Wednesday’s session was at a really good intensity, and the first half of the week was generally decent, the lower intensity of the second half of the week (per force) was less than optimal. That means we’ll need to really get the competitive focus back up right away to start the new week’s training. We just have two sessions with the match on Wednesday and then the Gran Prix over the weekend, which we depart for on Friday.

Coaching Log – Dec 21, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

Entering the week we stood top of the table with 24 points having completed our 10 first half matches. The other key match of the weekend was Engelholm vs. Lindesberg, which was won by the home team 3-1. That did not settle things for sure, but it certainly put Engelholm in good position to qualify with 18 points to Lindesberg’s 13. Örebro was also on 18.

The four remaining matches before the Christmas break were Lindesberg vs. Sollentuna on Wednesday, Gislaved vs. Örebro on Saturday, then Hylte vs. Lindesberg and Engelholm vs. RIG on Sunday. If all matches went according to expectations based on prior performance, the seedings for Gran Prix would be 1) Hylte, 2) Svedala, 3) Örebro, 4) Engelholm.

Monday
This was a recovery session after Sunday’s match. After talking a bit about how we played and about Tuesday’s opposition, and dynamic warm-up, the players played a competitive game of volleytennis. I then had them do a bit of target serving. We followed that up with a little bit of work on blocking against live hitters. The players did most of the talking with each other about positioning and movement and the like, though I also talked about some technical elements. We finished up with some serve and pass.

Tuesday
Around midday I got a message from our third OH that she will be leaving the team. She’s been applying to universities. Unfortunately, she didn’t get into one in our area, so will be heading back up north (where she’s from). Not exactly the sort of development we needed given our already thin squad!

The match against Brøndby was played in their main hall where we played two of the matches from the pre-season tournament we won.

Brondby Hall

Things started off a bit rough. We struggled with our passing and made a number of errors in the first set. At the same time, though, we were able to put them under considerable pressure from the service line. The result was an odd reversal of our normal pattern. Instead of siding out well and struggling to score on our serve, we only sided out at 32% and scored at 58%. That saw the score end up closer than probably our play deserved at 19-25.

That pattern held for the second set as well, with the percentages roughly the same. We were more competitive generally, but still lost 22-25.Our passing in those first two sets were 1.86 and 1.46 respectively, which helps explain the poor side-out performance.

Our more standard pattern re-emerged in the 3rd set in line with better reception (2.06). That let us bring our MBs into the attack more, and that was one area where we had a notable advantage. In particular, I talked with with about using movement to essentially beat the other middle to the point of attack, which we generally did well as the match progressed. We ended up winning 25-18.

We got on top of them early in the 4th set, but some further struggles in reception allowed them to claw their way back. We were level at 21-21, but errors on our side ended up costing us and we lost 22-25.

Four missed serves on the set didn’t help. That may not seem like a lot, but we only had 3 in the previous sets combined. We only had 5 aces, but we put them under enough pressure that they were often very predictable and were taking something off their swings or making hitting errors.

I think at least mental fatigue was a factor in our performance after Sunday’s intense battle at Hylte. We made some mistakes we haven’t made in a while and generally struggled – especially in the first couple of sets – in some of the finer skills. Our OH2 in particular didn’t look her same self. Although her ankle seemed fine, no doubt there was a lingering effect there. The team fought hard and had a good spirit (staff from Brøndby actually commented on it to me after the match). We just made too many mistakes.

This match-up was a good one to have for a couple of reasons. One was that it saw us have to play against larger pin blockers, which we haven’t done much in a while. It was something we definitely struggled with, especially in the first couple sets. The challenge was to figure out how we could apply our strengths against weaker points in their block/defense, which largely meant working against their MBs. Our M1 had 22 kills and 6 blocks.

Actually, overall our blocking was fairly solid. We tallied 11 and forced a number of errors and easily dug swings. Admittedly, though, this team was the type with OHs who look to tool the block, which is what we’ve struggled against.

Wednesday
I had spoken with the team after the match on Tuesday about what to do on Wednesday. I didn’t see any need to have an actual training session – though the younger players may have wanted one. Instead, I was good with using our normal weekly team weight-lifting session as a low impact type of recovery session. We agreed on doing it about 2 hours earlier than we normally do.

At the end of lifting I talked with the group briefly about expectations for the break. Mainly that was staying active physically, but also keeping it low impact to allow aching muscles, joints, etc. to recover. We discussed a bit of the calendar moving forward as well. Then I took 7 of them out for dinner. The other two had commitments (one of the Americans has family visiting).

Other results and standings
Wednesday’s loss may have put an Oresund Liga title out of reach at this point. Brøndby is 4 points clear of the pack now with one less match played than Engelholm and ourselves who are both on 10. We’ll need some help and our own victory over them in the return fixture in February to have a shot. Our next match toward the Liga is our first match of 2016 – home against Holte.

On Wednesday Lindesberg easily handled Sollentuna, as expected. That moved them to within 2 points of both Engelholm and Örebro. It probably wasn’t going to be enough to see them earn a spot in Gran Prix, but it assured at least that things would go down to the last day of the first half of the season on Sunday before the spots were finally decided.

On Saturday Örebro played at Gislaved. An outright win would assure Örebro of at least 3rd seed. Anything less would see them a risk of being overtaken and possibly left out in the cold. They managed a tight 3-1 victory to put them level on points with Hylte. The table on the league website indicated them as having moved up to 2nd on the basis of number of wins (8 vs. Hylte’s 7), but there’s been some question as to whether that or set ratio is the actual second tiebreak. The latter favored Hylte and would continue to do so even if they lost 0-3 on Sunday.

That left Engelholm and Lindesberg as the final two from which the 4th and final spot in Gran Prix would be decided on Sunday. The strong edge went to Engelholm as they hosted winless RIG, while Lindesberg faced a daunting road trip to Hylte.

Here’s an interesting scenario. Going into Sunday, Hylte was in a position to potentially decide their semifinal opponent for Gran Prix. A 3-0 or 3-1 win would give them top seed and probably Engelholm as their first round foe. Anything less than that would mean a 2nd or 3rd seed and a match against Örebro. Obviously, a win over Lindesberg wasn’t a sure thing. If they preferred Örebro over Engelholm as their first round opponent, though…

If Hylte did prefer Örebro, they got them. They beat Lindesberg 3-2, meaning we ended up as the top seed. That result also sealed Lindesberg’s fate, keeping them out of 4th regardless of Engelholm’s result. In any case, Engelholm won 3-0, basically as expected.

Here’s the Elitserie table as of the end of the first half.

ElitSerie-Table-122015

Coaching Log – Dec 14, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

After a full set of fixtures last week – and then some – here’s how things stood in the Elitserie coming into the new week.

Elitserie-Dec0615

As of this point, we were the only team on the women’s side to have secured a spot in January’s Gran Prix. Our 22 points is enough to ensure at least a 3rd seed. Neither Örebro nor Engelholm could catch us. Lindesberg could pull level, which would see it come down to a tie break for position. Hylte is the only one that could finish with more points.

In terms of the Oresund Liga, our win over Gislaved last Thursday counted toward the standings. Also on Thursday, Holte defeated Engelholm 3-1 at home. The other match on the week was Amager hosting Holte on Sunday in a Danish league match that counted toward the cross-border league as well. The away side got the win there. Leaders Brøndby were inactive, so here’s that table.

Oresundliga-120615

Our upcoming match at Brøndby on the 15th is the only one left before the holiday break and will decide who leads the league to start the second half come January.

Monday
I was in England fulfilling a requirement of my PhD work, so there was no training. Given that we’d played two matches in three days, the timing for this was pretty good.

Tuesday
I got back to Svedala in the early afternoon and one of the club’s board members picked me up at the train station to take me to my new place. On the plus side, it’s an interesting place (old property that was formerly a cloister) that seem comfortable and has wifi. On the down side, it’s 6k outside town with no real transit options. People are going to have to shuttle me back and forth. I believe the club is look at this as a temporary situation and that they are looking for something more convenient to eventually put me in “permanently”.

At the start of training, we started talking a bit about the last match – which seemed a long time ago for everyone – and the one coming on Sunday. For my own part, I focused on our improvement in recent matches when having a lead and being in position to win and creating problems for the other team from a tactical perspective.

After pre-hab and some partner pepper, I split the team. On center court I had the MBs and Setters working on attacking after block-transition, which they told me they felt was very useful. On the side court I had the rest initially doing some cooperative 3 v 3 play which required each player on a side to get a contact, which I then shifted to an 11 point back row attack only game.

After doing some target serving, I had them play a bit of Winners with fixed setters and MBs..The rest of training was a 6 v 5 version of 22 v 22. I had the starting setter on the 6 side for her three back row rotations, then moved her to the 5 side for two front row rotations. I normally would probably have included some serve and pass, but in this case I wanted to maximize our time in game play and since 22 v 22 is serve reception focused we got plenty of passing in.

In the first part of training I had some concerns about focus. Things were a bit sloppy, which made me think there might be a bit of complacency about things given that qualification for Gran Prix was already assured. I told them heading into the game play that I wanted high intensity during that work since it was probably the only time this week we’d be able to do near full team play. There was some good play in that final phase.

Wednesday
After skipping the last two weeks – one for a match and one because I had them on “active rest” rather than doing a program – the team was back together for their weekly join weight training. At the end of last week I gave them a new lifting program running through to the end of the regular season. That’s 13 weeks. It starts of low intensity, higher reps through the holiday period, then picks up once we get back rolling again in January.

Following the usual Wednesday warm-up routine, I had the players do a 5-person version of over-the-net 2-touch shuttle. I then had them play a series of 10 point games of 5 v 5 back court. There was a setter and middle at the net, with three in the back court with all attacks going through 1 and 6. I wanted to do this to work both on defense against something we’ll see in Sunday’s match (at least in terms of the pipe), but also to work on improving our own attack. Unfortunately, one of my changes meant my OH1 ended up being the only attacker on her team, so she got every ball. Good for working on that attack and for the defense training on the other side, but not optimal in general terms.

From there we did some serve & pass, with a bit of hitting mixed in. That was followed by target serving.

The last part of training was some 5 v 5. I wanted to keep working on our blocking, particularly in terms of dealing with attackers who like to go block-out. We struggled with that last time we played Hylte. The game had play start with a serve and the first set was required to go to the OH. After that the setter could go where ever she wanted. If the serve did not produce a rally (ace, hitting error, block) then I initiated a ball to the serving side – though I only counted the first ball toward the score. We played several games, rotating players around.

After I finished some players did a bit of work on specific things of their own. Our OPP worked with our OH1 on digging line attacks. The two MBs worked on blocking balls when they have to close fast to the pin.

Friday
Last real training before the Christmas break. I had to have a few words with the team at the start about being on time. There’s been a slow drift toward tardiness as the season’s progressed. It’s not that players are turning up late – at least not without a good reason – but we’ve been pushing things in terms of getting started on time and I’ve been on the verge of saying something about it. In this case, the net didn’t get fully up until 5 minutes or more after our start time, which gave me a very clear thing to point to as representing a problem.

After pre-hab I had the team do 21 to see where they were at in terms of focus. From there it was a bit of target serving focused on deep and short serves, which is the sort of thing that could come in handy against Hylte.

Along the same vein, the next exercise was back row attack Winners 3s. I saw some really good stuff both in terms of our attacking and our defending. Hopefully that translates to our play. I’d really like to see us get our OPP more involved in the offense when she’s back row.

The last two exercises were also game play. The first was a 5 v 5 game where I initiated an attacked ball to each side in turn and let them play out the rally. The idea there was to get some work in on our transition game, which has been up and down of late. The last thing we did was to run through the rotations in 6 vs 4 fashion, with the 4 serving and also getting a free ball if there was no subsequent rally. I tried to have the rotations go quickly, but wanted to make sure there were at least 3 good attacks from serve receive in each one.

For the last 2 rotations I specifically set my O1 up to be hitting when my OPP was playing defense to keep the latter working on her defensive game. She’s come a long way, and has become really adapt at picking up tips, but she continues to have her struggles handling harder driven balls well.

Sunday
Our second away match against Hylte was played at their other gym.

2015-12-13 12.55.47

In what was generally a back and forth affair, we won 3-2. Set scores were 25-23, 18-25, 25-22, 21-25, 15-12. Once again, our inability to put up a solid block at the pins gave us issues – both at the net and in defense. Looked like we just wanted it more when it counted in the last set as we just outscrapped them.

Our sideout game was very strong – near men’s levels of efficiency around 66%. Unfortunately, so was the other team’s. We also dramatically improved our ace/error ratio and I think generally did a better job of putting them under pressure despite our inability to stop them from siding out.

Other stuff
My OH2 twisted her ankle late in the 5th. She fought through it to finish out the last few points, but there’s a good chance she’ll miss Tuesday’s match.

The two points we got assured us of a top 2 seed for Gran Prix. Hylte, though, can match our point total if they win their remaining match before the break 3-0 or 3-1 they’ll. If so, they would take first on the basis of a better set differential.

Looking at serving and blocking together

In the same edition of the AVCA Coaching Volleyball magazine as one of my own pieces there’s an article from former Nebraska head coach Terry Pettit. Did you know I interviewed Terry for Volleyball Coaching Wizards?

Anyway, Terry speaks to developing strategies and tactics. Definitely give it a read. In particular, the fourth point is one that I shared with my team:

Teams that block and serve create a third dimension. Tough serving allows a good blocking team to become a great blocking team. Volleyball is a game of runs, which are usually created by nudging the opponent toward unforced errors. While kills may be impressive, they do not demoralize an opponent nearly as much as aggressive serving and blocking.

Good serving was a major focus of mine when I coached at Exeter, and it continued to be a point of concentration at Svedala. There, though, I also had a pretty good blocking squad. We led the Swedish league in blocks per set by a large margin. That isn’t necessarily the best way to judge blocking effectiveness, but it’s a starting point.

The fun part was we were not even at our best from a technical, positioning, and timing perspective. 🙂

Coaching Log – Nov 30, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

As expected, Örebro got the win against RIG over the weekend in the only Elitserie match scheduled. That moved them to the top of the table on 15 points. That’s tied with Hylte/Halmstad on points, but with one more match win. That saw Svedala start the week in 3rd on 13 points.

This week’s schedule featured three matches with Gran Prix implications. We had away matches against Hylte on Wedneday and Lindesberg (5th place on 10 points) on Saturday. On Sunday, Engelholm hosted Hylte. The two bottom teams – Sollentuna and RIG – also played on Saturday.

There was just one match for the Oresund Liga over the weekend as well. Gislaved got their first win in beating Amager 3-0. That was a good result for us as it kept Amager from catching us for 3rd in the standings. There were no matches happening this week.

Monday
We finally had a full squad in training fit and healthy once again, plus a guest player for a total of 10.We spent a bit of time at the start of training talking about Wednesday’s opposition before getting things rolling.

One of the long-term developmental needs at the individual level for this squad is being able to take a step toward the ball when digging a driven ball. I added an element to the end of warm-ups to get us more focused on that. For now it’s doing then step based on a partner thrown ball (and we need work on even doing that well), but the plan is to progress it rapidly to hit balls and to get it specifically incorporated into defensive work.

Our first primary drill was a 2-sided serve-pass-hit drill with 2 passer/hitters, a setter, and 2 servers on each half court. The passer had to hit a set they called. To give the setters some reps as well, toward the end I had our MBs setting so they could also get some setting reps.

We then shifted to a 3 v 6 drill. I had a variation on the starting team run through a couple of key rotations. First they received a serve and attacked against 3 blockers. They the 3 side ran an attack off a tossed ball to the setter on their side.

To finish with something competitive and up-tempo, we did some 22 v 22 to finish, with teams of 5. One side had defenders in 1 and 5 and the other in 5 and 6 (front row setter).

The starting setter at the beginning of training had asked to do some 6-person play to work on receive and transition offense. She was happy with being able to work on that stuff. Early on in the 3 v 6, though, I did have to get the players focused. They were a little scattered and I reminded them that after basically 3 weeks of not having the full team training together full speed hardly at all (I think just one practice), we needed to get synced back up quickly given the schedule ahead.

Tuesday
With two guest players on-hand we had 11 in training. After warm-ups and pre-hab I had the team split out so the setters could get some reps while the rest did some ball-handling. I had them do a cooperative 2 v 2 game of 2-touch with the objective of reached 21 consecutive. From there I had the MBs go with one setter and the rest with the other. The latter worked on serve-pass-hit while the former worked on quick and slide connections. About halfway through I swapped setters.

To take advantage of the numbers, and to prep for Wednesday’s match, we did 6 v 5, going through the rotations on the 6 side. We did alternating serves, with a team needing to win two rallies in a row to get a point. After one side got 3 points, we rotated.

After that, the players wanted to go more up-tempo, so we did something similar to the 3 v 6 from the night before. This time it was 5 v 6, but I ran it the same way. The 5 served to the 6 and then got a free ball play to run. Again, we ran through the rotations.

Wednesday
On the road to Halmstad Arena for the match against Hylte/Halmstad.

Halmstad

Nice facility. Wish they had a bigger crowd.

Anyway, the match started pretty ugly. We got thrashed in the first set, 25-13. Given the rough training situation of the last three weeks, I couldn’t say I was surprised. Too many hitting errors. We literally only scored points in one rotation.

I changed the rotation for the second set to have our M1 go across the front straight away (she started in 2 in the first set) because our M2 just wasn’t looking like she was going to be effective. Also, the other team clearly had a strategy of serving my O1. Turning things back put us in a position where she could focus on passing from the start without having to think as much about hitting (though she actually passed fine). We ended up winning that set 25-22, and won the third set by the same score.

Things were cruising along in the fourth set. We were up 19-13, but let them back in. They caught and passed us to win 25-23.

The fifth set saw us fall behind 5-1, but after a timeout we got things turned around. We ran off 8 straight points to go up 9-5. They fought back to 9-8. We were up 12-10, but the stayed in it. We had a serve for match point at 15-14, but our young setter who went in as a serving/defense sub, put the ball in the net. We ended up loosing 17-15.

That match point miss wasn’t the only bad error. We had a few of them in the 5th set, plus a few more in the 4th set as well. On top of that, our M1 who is our big point scorer, stopped attacking the ball aggressively. I think in the last set she only hit the ball hard once – a narrow miss on a good set. Everything else was roll shots. All together, she only had 4 kills (plus 3 errors) when she had 9 kills combined (only 1 error) in sets 2 and 3. She even had 5 kills in our horrible first set!

Basically, as was the case when we played Engelholm a month ago, we choked and got tight when we were in position to win. That said, I suppose if you asked me if I’d take a 3-2 loss – and the point that comes with it – after the way we lost the first set, I probably would have said “Yes”.

Thursday
Not so much Thanksgiving action for me this year. In the morning I went to Lund to pick up a printed copy of my PhD thesis from one of our part-time players who goes to school there. I then spent the rest of the day in the library getting work done. Did have a turkey sandwich for lunch, though!

Friday
After the tough match on Wednesday and with an eye toward our long day up coming on Saturday, I kept training fairly low intensity. We started off talking about the match. Mostly, I did the talking about needing the courage to stay aggressive and continue to play the way we got ahead in the first place when in those sorts of situations again. The team also brought up the thought that part of the issue with our “choking” has been that communication faded when we were up – meaning we were getting complacent. We also went over the scouting for the next match. After that, basically it was the same 1-hour structure we use for our home match day serve and pass sessions.

Saturday
We left home shortly after 7:00 and stopped for lunch about 45 minutes out from our destination – Lindesberg. Got there just about 2:00 for the 4:00 match. Following on from Friday’s conversation, we focused a lot on keeping the communication going from start to finish.

The first set was fairly back and forth. We made more errors than we should have, but eventually we got on top to win 25-21. In the second set were were in control just about throughout, resulting in a 25-17 win.

The break was 15 minutes, which really didn’t do us any favors. Our starting setter was already feeling the long van trip in her back, and our O1 developed some kind of muscle strain or something near her knee early on. The break only served to cause them to tighten up. No doubt helped by that, we had some struggles in the third set and were down 21-14. We narrowed the gap dramatically, though, and only ended up losing 25-22. We might have been able to do even better were it not for a missed serve.

The four set saw us get back on top of them. I think it was 19-13, before they started their own late rally. A couple of consecutive passing errors by our O1 helped them get uncomfortably close, but we finished it off 25-23.

I was quite happy with our defense overall. We quickly adapted to their play and were able to dig a lot of balls. Our block was a bit inconsistent, though we still had 11 total on the match officially (on the bench we counted 13). There were just times when we allowed the opposing hitter to absolutely bomb the ball because our positioning wasn’t right. By the numbers, we’re the best blocking team in the league by a healthy margin, but we can get better.

Our serving can still get better as well (we also lead the league in a aces/set). We had 14 errors in the match. Two players accounted for 8 of them, though. One is my M1 who has struggled all season. She can go on strings of points, but then miss her next three serves. The other is our OPP who is working to develop her jump serve. I encouraged her to try it early in the match, which didn’t work out. Oh, well. She’ll get better.

It was a long trip back after that. I didn’t get home until nearly 2:00.

Thoughts and observations
Hopefully, being able to hold Lindesberg off when they rallied back on Saturday is a step in the right direction in terms of tackling the tentativeness that has crept in to our play in those situations. I didn’t see the same sort of hesitancy, though I did see a bit of hyperactive stuff creep back in. We made a few foolish decisions. Need to find the middle zone.

Our libero has been noticeably more active in directing things in serve reception. Noticing that, for Saturday’s match I gave her some additional authority. Lindesberg has a strong jump server (though inconsistent). I told the libero that she should feel free to bring the OPP and/or MB in to cover parts of the court if she thought it was the right thing to do. It was something I reinforced during a timeout when that server had had a couple of good serves. She did pull the OPP to take the line ball. We ended up winning that rally because the server didn’t giver herself a great toss.

Coaching Log – Nov 16, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

Results in the Elitserie from the week ending November 8th offered up one surprise – Örebro needing five sets to beat Sollentuna away. That earned the home team their first point of the season. The other result was Gislaved losing at home to Engelholm. Given the form of the those two teams of late, not a shock result. Those outcomes move both the winners above us in the standings, but having played two more matches.

Elitserie-Nov0615

No teams are out of the running yet for Gran Prix. The qualification will be based on the first 10 matches, with the top 4 getting in. Sollentuna and RIG are certainly well off the pace, but play each other twice in the weeks ahead, so one of them could make a move up the table. Gislaved looks like they may struggle to qualify as their next four matches are no easy path. Lindesberg is the wild card at the moment, as they’ve only played three matches so far.

As for Svedala, with two matches in-hand, so to speak, we look to be well positioned. It won’t be a cake walk, though. We have two away matches against Hylte/Halmstad, along with trips to Lindesberg and Gislaved mixed in with this week’s home match vs. RIG and what is likely to be a tough one against Engelholm next month.

The above mentioned Gislaved – Engelholm match also counted toward the Oresundliga standings, entrenching the latter at the top of the table. The Danish teams all have a match in-hand.

Oresundliga-110615

We don’t have another match that counts toward this league until mid-December. That’s our last match before the holiday break.

The Svedala U23 team, featuring all of the Swedish players from the first team, took Silver at the national tournament. They lost in the final to Engelholm.

Monday
Sometimes the coach goofs and forgets the equipment closet keys at home. When you’re training in your main gym, that may not be so bad as it would be a quick turn around to go home and get them. When training in your gym 20 minutes drive away, that doesn’t really work. I’d hoped our manager had a copy of the key, but he didn’t and no one in the facility had one either. Basically had to scrap training. We talked a bit about some stuff I observed on video and how things went at the U23 tournament. Then I released the players to go work out.

Tuesday
We had six and a half players for training – the half being our starting setter who was recovering from her back injury. She did a little setting at points.

I started off talking with them a bit about some stuff I did on video for them looking at our defense, hitter transition, and blocking from the last match. In particular with the blocking, I saw that we were consistently late. We did prehab and I had them do a bit of partner 2-touch, which transitioned into a serving warm-up. I then had them to some deep serves with a focus on the ball being below the top of the antennae. When they reached the objective, they then shifted to short serves.

I then had them do a 3 v 3 version of the Hard Drill. Along with being a decent preparation for the hitting that was to come, it also worked on defense against back row attacks, which is something we talked about at the beginning in terms of positioning.

This was followed by some serving and passing. The servers were banging out some really tough balls, making the passers struggle considerably at times.

The rest of training was a sequence of hitters against block and defense. I started by having a blocker in 2 with defenders in 1 and 6. On the other side I had two attackers hitting in 4 plus the libero. The not hitter of the two attackers passed a ball that the libero then had to set. The defense needed to get 7 blocks or good digs. I rotated players around.

We did something similar with attacking through 2 against a blocker in 4, with defenders in 5 and 6. Since the libero was playing in 5, I had the setter set in this case. We also did attack in 4 with block in 2 and defense in 5 and 6.

Although this wasn’t a particularly high intensity session, it was physically demanding for the hitter/blockers, who got a lot of jumps. I wasn’t worried about fatigue given we didn’t train on Monday and wouldn’t go again until Friday. Along with working the defense and block, it was also a good exercise for the hitters working against the block. On top of that, it was an opportunity for the libero to work on putting up hitable balls. This is something we need to develop with her, as she’s not confident in that role.

Wednesday
No training today as the 2nd team had a home match. I attended and spoke with five of the players from that team afterwards about coming to train with the first team – probably Tuesday and/or Friday when they don’t train with their team. They mostly seemed eager. I told them they would be expected to turn up, work hard, make aggressive mistakes, and listen to the older players. I think we’ll have them with us on Tuesday.

Friday
Our starting setter was back to more or less full training. She avoided going to the floor on defense, but otherwise did everything else, including blocking. That gave us 9 in training with our two young players back from their school trips.

We talked at the beginning about focus points for training and Sunday’s match. I told them increasing in-rally defensive communication is the thing I want the whole team focused on, and that each should pick something individual.

After warms ups I had them do the last part of the Twenty-one drill, which is basically 3-person over-the-net pepper with a goal of getting 21 straight pass-set-dig sequences. I don’t know if it was the lack of training this week, or something else, but the players seemed to lack a bit of focus. It took them longer than usual for a group to actually reach the objective.

I had them do some serving to get their shoulders warmed-up a bit further, and to prepare for later activities. I used the opportunity to video one of my MBs, who is working on on jump float serve.

From there we moved to a variation on Winners I haven’t used before. In this case, rather than waving through the winners side, the team losing a rally stepped off to be replaced by the team waiting to come on. While that was happening, a ball was played over to the winning team to start the next rally. In this case we did back row 3s with no tipping in front of the 3 meter line. The focus was on reading the attack, adjusting the defense properly, and communicating throughout. I liked how it went.

Serving and passing with the MBs and setters getting reps came next. I had two of the pin hitters passing with our libero, with one setter and one MB running sets off the passes. After 5 good attacks, the MBs switch. After both MBs got their 5, I switched the pin hitters passing and swapped setters.

The last main element of training was a series of 4 v 5 games. On one side I had a setter in 2 along with a MB in 3, an OH in 4, the libero in 5, and another OH in 6. Set against them was our RS in 2, setter in 1, MB in 3, and OH in 6. The team of 4 served. After the initial rally played out, that team received a down ball. Games were played to 10 points. I rotated the setters back and forth, and flipped the setter and RS on the team of 4 so both played front and back row. I rotated the OHs through all three positions, and had the MBs switch sides.

Those games were generally pretty competitive. Because they were basically played just in one half of the court (though the team of 4 could attack Zone 2 where the setter was defending), at the end I ran a version where we played cross-court attacks. I wasn’t overly pleased with it, though. Need to rethink how that one works for future use.

The players wanted to get in some work on some different things at then end, which led them to basically do serving and passing with a couple of attackers based on who wanted to do what. The serving was a bit less aggressive than earlier, though.

At the end, along with administrative stuff, I talked with the players about bringing the strong serving I’ve seen in the last couple weeks of training into Sunday’s match.

Sunday
Home match against RIG, which is basically the Swedish national volleyball academy – meaning all high school aged players. You may recall we had a couple of them in training with us two weeks back – one of whom is the leading point scorer so far. Coming into the match, they only managed 1 point from their first four matches. They actually hadn’t played a match in the league since October 21st for various reasons.

My philosophy on playing against younger, less experienced teams is that you generally want to try to be as clean on your side of the net as possible. They will tend to be prone to errors and you don’t want to bail them out by making a lot yourself. That said, though, it’s also an opportunity to work on developmental needs. The latter was more my focus going into this match.

Perhaps not surprisingly given we only trained twice on the week and just once as a full group and our starting setter was just back from her injury, our first set was an ugly one. We didn’t pass well. Our serving was mixed. We made a lot of mistakes. It cost us the set. We progressively got better and ended winning comfortably after that, but not without a lot of issues along the way.

Serving was a big frustration. We had 13 aces against 15 errors. That’s not a bad ratio, all in all. The vast majority of those errors were in the net, though, so not positive errors. This after a couple of weeks of pretty good serving in practice.

Thoughts and observations
I really wanted to use Sunday’s match to get some playing time for my bench, but things didn’t quite work out. The did both get in, but not as much as I’d wanted. In part it was because the sets went too fast and my substitution plans never came to fruition.

I had a thought to play the second setter to give the starter a break here and their given her return from injury. The starter, though, was legitimately worried about tightening up if she came out, so I couldn’t really risk it – especially after we lost the first set. Also, her two weeks of not playing or really training until Friday really were obvious. She wasn’t clicking great with the MBs and her accuracy wasn’t there on some of the pin sets. Basically, she needed the reps.

Defense and blocking were better. We ended up with 13 blocks and dug a lot of balls. That contributed to a much improved point scoring percentage – 58% and 60% sideout. Admittedly, though, RIG does not feature quite the offensive capability of other teams we play. They really struggled with our offense as well, as we were close to 50% kills according to the initial cut of the stats (compared to their 31%).

Other stuff
The other results in the league from the weekend were not really surprising. Hylte won to go back top of the table. Our win moves us up into 2nd, and still with matches in-hand against the two teams immediately behind us. Lindesberg beat Gislaved, which likely means the latter is out of contention for a Gran Prix spot now as they’ve already played 7 fixtures and are 5 points adrift of 4th place.

We are back in action a week from Tuesday when we head to Hylte for a big clash.

Working on attacking the block in games and drills

During one of the on-court sessions at the HP Coaches Clinic, someone presented an idea about hitters attacking the block. They put an antenna on the net about a meter in from the left side pin. Basically, it defined the zone in which the OH normally attacks. The hitter then had to hit the ball between the antennae. That obviously makes it harder to hit around the block. This forced the hitter to work the edges of the block. Or they could attack seam, if that option was available. The blockers took line or cross to work on things more narrowly.

This sort of thing can be used in the Pin Hitter Challenge game they demonstrated at the clinic, if you have two sets of antennae. It also works in the Hitter Tourney drill, the Hitter vs. Hitter Challenge or High Ball to Receive games. Basically, use it in any game or drill with hitters against blockers with lots of sets to the attackers in focus.

Of course training the attackers in this fashion also benefits blockers as well. They can work on good hand position and angles to avoid hitters tooling them.

Game: Pin Hitter Challenge

Synopsis: This game pits the OH and OPP hitters against each other in a kill challenge to work on being able to score against full-team defense, but also allows for working on blocking and defense.

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

Requirements: 2 teams, court, balls

Execution: Playing 6 v 6 in a single rotation, one side receives all serves. The setter is back row and alternates setting the OH and the OPP. If one of them scores and the other does not, that hitter earns a point. If neither scores or both score, then it is a wash. The defensive team plays the second ball over when they make digs to keep rallies going. Each new rally begins with a serve. Play to a certain number of points.

Variations:

  • You could designate only high ball attacks if that’s a specific area of focus you want.
  • Blockers can be given specific instructions as to what to take/give.
  • You can have your defense play something other than the usual one to act as an upcoming opponent or work on developing a new system.

Additional Comments:

  • I saw this demonstrated by the USA National Team coaching staff at the HP Coaches Clinic.
  • It’s not a bad idea to keep hitting stats while doing this game, to get the added information above and beyond who wins.
  • Having the defensive team play the second ball over keeps them engaged and allows for work on hitting in transition in a more controlled fashion than going off a 3rd touch contact.

Coaching Log – Oct 16 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

Wednesday was our first BUCS match of the year. To say things didn’t go optimally would be an understatement. We had to drive over 4 hours (players driving) leaving before 7am to get to the match, closer to 5 hours by the time we got parked and across campus, changed and into the gym. Then we found out we had basically zero time to warm up before the official pre-match routine started because our Athletic Union failed to inform us that said warm-up was set to begin about 25 minutes before the team was changed. Needless to say, we weren’t anywhere close to mentally or physically prepared to play the match.

The opposition was solid, but by no means overpowering. They reminded us a lot of the third place teams from our league last year in terms of style of play. I have no doubt we have the players capable of beating them. Not, however, if we play the way we did on Wednesday. Way too many mistakes driven by tentative, fearful play. And our blocking and defense weren’t nearly good enough (the latter definitely a function of the former). Lots of work needs doing – technically, tactically, and mentally.

It was an early training session on Thursday as we swapped spots with the men’s team since they played a late-day match Wednesday. Not surprisingly, there were some sluggish minds and bodies. We only had six balls, which put some serious limits on what I could do with them. It ended up being a session developed dynamically.

I had them start with rotating pepper after the dynamic warm-up, then moved to a variation of the hard drill. My decision to do that latter was to get the players doing more thinking on the court. After that, I did half court (narrow) winners 4s with fixed setters.

It was not a great session. Too little focus. Too little commitment. Balls dropped. Players made numerous bad decisions. I was sharper with them because of it than I’ve been so far this season. I actually ended training early after yet another ball hit the floor with two players standing there looking at each other (which got the team captain shouting at them).

I told them at the end of training that certain players need to get more focused (no names) and were at risk of being excluded from training because they were negatively influencing the ability of other players to practice at the necessary intensity. They were warned that Monday’s session had better be MUCH better in terms of intensity and focus.

On the plus side, after telling the two setters I would make them do a push-up (just 1) if I caught them leaving target early (which they both had been horribly guilty of up to that point in the session) they were much more disciplined about that.