Tag Archive for communication

Coaching Log – Nov 25, 2013

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

With matches for everyone coming up, playing 6 v 6 in segregated teams was the main theme of training. The B side focus was on teamwork, calling the ball, staying switched on, and not looking for someone else to play the ball. I told the B side focus was on continuing to be aggressive in attack, but underlying that was also an evaluation of the setter position. This harkens back to my observations from the Student Cup performance.

One of my primary OHs thus far is also a capable setter (sets for her German club team). I haven’t used her there thus far because I saw her value as an attacker as being in the area of greater need. Even had to use her at MB on a couple of occasions when we were thin on bodies. In the last match of the Cup I had her do some setting for the first time and it was an eye-opener just from the warm-ups. With other hitters coming along, I no longer feel so concerned about losing out on her as an OH.

At the same time, our starting setter up to now is only here for this term. As a result, I need to evaluate our setting options moving forward in any case. One of the teams on the schedule for the upcoming matches is currently top of the table, having beat us a couple weeks ago. We need to be at our best for the rematch, so I took a hard look at the setting in training to start evaluating who would give us our best chance at victory.

Following what was basically a pre-match warm-up, we went straight into 6 v 6. It started with a game featuring one side serving 3 times in a row (not counting missed serves). I put the starting setter with the B team (their setter was missing) and the other one with the A team. I used that to gauge a rough baseline point differential I could use to spot the B side in the straight-up games to follow. I came up with 8.

We then played two regular games which started with the B side serving, up 8-0. In the first the starting setter was with the A side. I then flipped setters for the second game. The A team lost the first set 25-20, and the second 25-23.

Stats were kept for all three games to evaluate offensive effectiveness as a way to compare the setters. More of this needs to be done in the next training, but the early results show quite a stark difference. The kill % for the team when the starting setter ran things on the A side was was 21% vs 36% for the former OH, while the hitting efficiency numbers were .063 vs .190. Need to see if that gap holds up.

Volleyball Coaches – Stop talking!

Are you the sort of volleyball coach who talks a lot during your training sessions?

Actually, that’s a bit of a vague question. After all, how much is a lot? So let me restate –

Do you often stop practice to talk to the team or a single player and/or do you take more than 30 seconds or so to make your point before getting the team back to work?

If so, you may be talking too much.

You need to think very hard about the trade-off between the value of what you have to say to the team and the impact a stoppage. A pause to talk – especially a lengthy one – will affect the flow, intensity, and focus of your training. I’ve seen coaches bring practice to a screeching halt because they decided they needed to take 5 or 10 minutes to say something. When that happens the team has to get the intensity ramped back up. That takes time, particularly if the players have cooled down. Even worse is if the coach talk results in players mentally checking out. This is to be avoided.

If you more than a minute to talk about something, you need to think about when to do it. Generally speaking, the beginning of training when the players haven’t warmed up yet, and the end of training as they are getting ready to cool down (or are doing so) are the best times to give longer talks. Those are non-disruptive points where you can take a several minutes to talk about things.

I’ve also seen many a coach stop a whole team’s training just to talk with one player.

This sometimes cannot be avoided. The setter is particularly problematic because many times when you need to talk with them it forces a drill stoppage. To the extent that you can, though, the best way to work with a single player is to take them out of a drill for a minute (perhaps subbing another player in to keep the drill moving). That lets you provide individual attention without bringing the whole team to a halt without having to do so.

I personally talk infrequently during practice. This is partly a personality thing (I’m more inclined to watch and listen rather than speak), but also a function of wanting to let players work things out themselves where possible. I will only stop the team to talk with them if there’s something which needs to be immediately addressed. Often this is about correcting something I’m seeing multiple players do or to address the level of effort. I stop them, make my point as quickly as I can, then get them back to work.

Let’s face it. Players learn WAY more by actually doing than by us telling them stuff. Our job is to facilitate that process and provide guidance along the way.

That said, one can talk too little. One of my Exeter men’s players told me once that during the early part of the first season when I took over the team he thought I didn’t want to coach them because I was so quiet in training. In retrospect, I don’t think I needed to talk more in terms of the player/team development, but perhaps I could have done more to allow the players the opportunity to more quickly come to know me and how I operate. It is something I’ve kept in mind moving forward.

Required volleyball reading?

I did the last of my planned collegiate program training visits on Wednesday, this time at UCLA. Interestingly, when I got to the gym ahead of their training session I found them doing a review/discussion of the book Crucial Conversations. Assistant coach Stein Metzger told me it was something they were looking to use to improve on the communication front as that was seen to be a problem with the team last year. I haven’t read the book before myself, but it’s a best seller so clearly quite a few others have done. Might just give it a look to see what’s what.

I’ve got just about a week left in the States. While I don’t have any plans on visiting any more schools and their practices, I may yet get a bit more volleyball in before I head back for England. The University of Wisconsin will be playing at Pepperdine on Saturday evening. Pepperdine is supposed to be a beautiful campus (located in Malibu), so I’d like to go just to have a look. I happen to also know the Wisconsin coach from my days at Brown when he was coaching at Albany and they came to one of our tournaments. He’s definitely moved up in the world since!

I may also make a trip to the famous Manhattan Beach. I’ve been told there’s a fantastic little Mexican food joint there. Oh, and it’s known for some pretty good beach volleyball action too. 🙂

I think once I have some time to let everything settle and can reflect I’ll write a post looking back on my 5 campus visits and the different things I observed. Look for that when I get back.

Drill: 4-person Diagonal Pepper

Synopsis: This is a good warm-up drill which includes all ball-handling skills and lots of movement, plus encourages player communication. (Saw this one while watching the University of Rhode Island training)

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

Requirements: Four players, half a court, 1 ball

Execution: Begin with 1 player in a corner of the court and 3 players in the opposite corner. The one player standing hits a ball to the group of three. The player who digs the ball immediately runs across to where the hitter is. One of the other two players sets the ball to the other of the duo, then runs to join the other two. Finally, the third player hits the ball at the three now in the opposite corner, starting the cycle again.


  • In order to give the setter more time to get across the court, the hitter can take the set ball and do a self-set before hitting the ball to create a little delay.
  • Higher level players could be required to jump hit and/or jump set
  • This could be done for time or for some number of successful dig-set-hit executions (consecutive or otherwise).

Additional Comments:

  • The variability of who takes the first ball and the requirement of the other two players to have to decide which takes the second ball.
  • The defenders should also be encouraged to call for the ball when the hitter is getting ready to send the ball their way to provide an auditory target.

Book Review: Coaching Volleyball Successfully by Sally Kus

I feel an initial warning is in order here. If you are merely thinking about getting into coaching – especially at something like the high school level – you may not want to read Coaching Volleyball Successfully by Sally Kus. It could scare you right into not coaching, and nobody wants that! 🙂

Seriously, though, the author talks at good length about what makes for a good volleyball program (not just a good team). There are many facets to it. Thinking about it all as someone new to coaching can be a bit overwhelming.

If I remember correctly, Sally was one of the Cadre on the CAP II course I took. While I was at Brown, I also went against her on one occasion when she coached at the University of Buffalo. Her team won. Sally’s teams won a lot. The Sweet Home high school team she coached holds the record for most consecutive match wins with 292 (1978-1987).

Part I

The first section of the book is the Coaching Foundation. The two main focal points are coaching philosophy and communication. Coaching philosophy may be something assistant or apprentice volleyball coaches don’t need to worry too much about, as that will come down from the head coach. For anyone running a team themselves, however, it’s a major consideration. Since a large proportion of lower level coaches don’t have the benefit of starting as an assistant, that is likely to cover most readers. Not only does Kus talk about developing a philosophy, she shares some tips for implementing it as well.

The second focus is communication – in all its forms. We’re talking player-to-player, coach-to-player, coach-to-coach, coach-to-parents. Add in any other line of exchange you can think about – verbal, written, and otherwise. Kus leaves no doubt about how important it is for the health of your team, your program, and yourself to make sure there is good, positive communication with and among all parties involved. Player and team motivation is part of that equation.

Part II

The second section of the book is Coaching Plans. Again, we’re talking about a very comprehensive look at the planning aspect of being a successful head volleyball coach. A lot of it concentrates on developing effective training plans. No doubt that will interest most readers considerably. There are a number of drills, games, and warm-up ideas included here.

Part III

Part III tackles the instruction of individuals skills. This is quite detailed. It looks at player mechanics with lots of suggestions for ways to address common issues and bad habits. A number of drill ideas support this section.

After the skills section, in a natural progression, comes two sections dealing with systems, strategies, and tactics. These feature a comprehensive look at both offensive and defensive systems of play and how to development them, as well as a considerable discussion of how to manage teams in preparation for and during matches.

The book wraps up with a sixth section which goes over evaluations – both players and program. Kus, as with all the other parts of the book, is full of detail in terms of both what to evaluate and how you can do it.

Overall thoughts

As you may have realized by this point, this book is absolutely loaded. It’s not something you will breeze through in a few hours. That said, though, the writing is very direct and well paced. I seriously doubt you’ll find yourself bored anywhere along the way, as can sometimes be the case in coaching books.

The bottom line is Coaching Volleyball Successfully is a fantastic book. It does focus a great deal on high school volleyball, but there are a lot of references to collegiate, Juniors, and youth volleyball as well, and much of the material can be applied across the board. If I were offering suggestions as to what a new or developing coach should read, this one would be right on the top of that list.

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.

Drill: Twenty One

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

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

Requirements: 3 players, one ball, a net

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


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

Additional Comments:

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

Calling the ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game: Touch & Go

Synopsis: This is a good warm-up game which gets players thinking, communicating, and working on ball-handling precision across a variety of skills.

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

Requirements: Full court, 6+ players.

Execution: This is a short-court game played inside the 3 meter line (anything beyond 3m being out), so split the squad accordingly. Serves must be executed from behind the 3 meter. Play is otherwise as normal, with one exception. After each contact, including the serve, the player touching the ball must run to the back of the court and then return. If a player fails to do so, then subsequently touches the ball again it is a point of the opposing team.


  • Space is a consideration, but ideally for higher level athletes you should make the point at which the players have to run far enough back to force them to sprint to get back in to play and not leave large areas of court exposed.
  • Play the game to a number of points which fits in with the amount of time you want to allocate.
  • Bonus points can be designated for skills/plays you want to encourage (tips, roll shots, quick attacks, etc.).

Additional Comments:

  • This is a good game to encourage communication as the players will fall into a habit of reminding each other to run. They will also quickly learn to talk about where they are on the court, especially after having just done a run.
  • Because they are playing short-court, this game really forces players to work on fine ball-control skill, particularly when serving and attacking.
  • The one thing you hope to see (though you may have to motivate the players to think about it) is players intentionally attacking weak points in the opposing team’s defense.
  • You may need to encourage more aggressive play from your better players so it is not just a progression of easy tips and free balls over the net.