Tag Archive for defense

Game: 4 v 4 Out-of-System Winners

Synopsis: This is a variation on Winners 3s or 4s which narrows the attacking options. That should produced more rallies while getting in good work on defense against live hitters and out-of-system offense, among other things.

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

Requirements: 12+ players, full court

Execution: This game features 4 players on each side, two front row and two back row in a box type of formation. The two front row players are pin hitters, with the two back row players as wing defenders. The area within 6′ (2m) of the hitter’s line is declared out (so if the hitter is attacking in 4 then zones 1 and 2 are basically out of play. In other words, the hitter must attack middle or cross-court. The game is played like Winners in terms of having a winning side, rally initiation by a serve, etc.

Variations:

  • You can change up which areas of the court are out. If you exclude the middle of the court, then you make the hitters attack line or cross. If you exclude the cross court you force the hitters to attack middle or line.
  • You could eliminate the Winners element and just have the two sides playing each other with the sides rotating each time they send the ball over the net.
  • You can have positional specialization either by keeping players in fixed positions, or by left side players just playing on the left and right side players just playing on the right.
  • You can require that one of the back row players take the second ball.

Additional Comments:

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.

What type of defense do you run?

I recently received an email in which I was asked what type of defense I use with my team and my thoughts on the subject.

Generally speaking, my starting point is the perimeter defense – which is so named because the back row defenders play toward the edges of the court (where most of the hard attacked balls go when there’s a decent block). Some also call this a middle back defense. I start there because it’s something most players have played and understand well.

From there, though, I think about things in two ways.

Personnel
There are certain player requirements for playing a perimeter defense (or any other, for that matter). For example, the defender in 6 needs to be a good reader and able to move well laterally. Not every player is suited to that role. For example, I had a player at Exeter who was very aggressive in attacking the ball played in front of her, but who did not move laterally well. That mandated she play defense in 5 rather than 6.

You’re also thinking about things like your block and potential back row attack. When I was coaching at Brown in the early days of the libero, we didn’t do much by way of back row attacking. We generally played our OHs in 5 and our Libero in 6. The idea there was that the OHs were basically specialists in digging cross-court balls. We made a change, though, because our block channeled balls cross-ourt and we wanted our best digger – our libero – in position to play them.

Opposition
Sometimes you want to change things up to better defend against certain teams or types of attacks. The rotation defense in which the defender in 1 one covers tips, and the defender in 6 rotates toward the line, can be used to defend against teams that play a lot of shots. We did this at Exeter against weaker teams at times. At Brown we actually used a type of rotation defense against teams that liked to attack line to have a better digger in that position. Recently with Svedala we looked to use a rotation defense when we had our smaller second string setter playing to have more line defense.

Of course you have to consider all the implications. Using a rotation defense tends to get your front row OH out of having to play balls way into the court – which makes it hard for them to then attack. At the same time, though, it likely means your setter having to play more first balls.

The bottom line
At the end of the day you want to put your players in the positions they are best suited to play within the context of a general block-defensive philosophy related to what you expect to see from the teams you play. Consider how you view the objective of defense and position your players accordingly.

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.

Coaching Log – Nov 9, 2015

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

The prior weekend results basically went as expected. That saw Hylte/Halmstad on top with 12 points and us in second on 10. Örebro and Engelholm both sat on 8 points, with both having played 5 matches to our 4. Below that, Lindesberg and Gislaved were both at 6 points, with the former having only played 3 matches and the later up to 5. RIG still had only a single point and Sollentuna none, both after four matches.

The league schedule this week was light, with only a pair of matches midweek as there was a national U23 tournament over the weekend.

Our Wednesday match this week was Oresundliga, not Elitserie. Following last week’s win over Gislaved, we were tied on 7 points with Engelholm after 3 matches, though they with a better set differential.

Monday
I got a message from my starting setter in the morning that she was still in quite a bit of pain from the back issue she developed late in the last match. I told her to talk to the manager about getting it checked out. I was already mentally prepared to have to play our young Swedish setter in this match. She didn’t train that night, nor did one of my OHs who has been fighting a cough for a while.

With only 7 in training, there were limits to what we could do. My focus points were to give the young setter some reps with the hitters to prepare for Wednesday, to continue working on digging, and to work on passing in Zone 1, which also got us working on serving that zone as well, which we probably could stand to do a bit more. The motivation for working on passing in that area is an observation in our passing stats that in most rotations the passer there is well below 2.0.

I started out talking with the team about some stuff I observed from Saturday’s match. Top of the list is the fact that we did rather poorly when digging the ball well. We only got kills 1/3 of the time and made errors or got blocked 27% of the time when digging a 3-ball. When digging a 2-ball, by comparison, we got kills 50% of the time with no errors or blocks. Overall, our error/block rate was around 20% for the match, which was notably higher than in the prior match. I wasn’t too worried about that given we were working on speeding up the attack and introducing some new elements. We did talk, though, that maybe we got a bit too excited on those good digs (we had 57% kills on 3-passes in serve receive). The set stats showed that while the first two sets saw us pass relatively poorly (well below 2.0), our sideout % for both was quite high. Conversely, in the last two sets we passed well, but were only around 50% in siding out.

We also talked about a potential adjustment to our serve reception formation in Rotation 1, which might give us a few different/better attacking options. Making a shift in our defensive strategy was something else we discussed in light of the setter switch for Wednesday’s match. Both were things I left to get into more when we had more bodies in training on Tuesday.

After warm-ups we did a bunch of positional digging with hitters on boxes. Serving and passing was next, with passers in Zone 1 and 6. I started that off with the setter as target to get some reps. Later I rotated her out and the two MBs through so they could get a few setting reps as well as in our system they take many of the second balls if the setter plays the first. We finished up with some hitting.

Tuesday
In looking once again at our rotation-by-rotation performance, I realized Rotation 1 wasn’t the worst one in terms of sideout % as I’d been thinking. It actually ranked 4th, well above Rotations 4 and 6. Obviously, those two need more focused attention. Rotation 4 is also the weakest in terms of point scoring, partly because our OPP has a higher than average service error rate. Generally speaking, we’re just above 50% point scoring in each rotation, with 4 being a little below there and 6 being notably above. My view is that getting better in block/defensive will give us more point scoring opportunities, and being a bit more clinical when we get good digs will raise the kill %.

Training featured 9 players. The starting setter was on the sidelines again, though appears to be only a relatively short-term loss (she was evaluated in the afternoon). One of our part-time players was on-hand, though.

After warm-ups, prehab, and some ball-handling, I had them do the cooperative cross-court hitting drill. One side had the setter fixed with the others rotating through 6, 5, and 4. The other side had the libero fixed in 5 with the others rotating through 6, 4, and setting. We haven’t done that in a while and I felt like it would be a good “live hitter” defensive exercise.

From there we moved on to serving and passing with the setter and the MBs working on middle attacks. One MB hit against one blocking, with the other serving. They rotated after 5 good swings.

Next up was a quick exercise to work on point scoring in Rotation 4. Our OPP served to start. I then gave a free ball to the 3 players on the other side. That ball was set by a MB to either pin and they played out the rally. If the serve was an error or the serving team lost the rally it was a -1. If they won it was +1. The objective was to get be at +2 after 10 balls, or to get there if by the 10th ball they hadn’t achieved the goal. I think they were at 0 after 10, but then scored the next 2 to finish. The lack of a full team on the other side really took some of the challenge out – but only if the serving team could get a dig. What I wanted to do was to put a bit of pressure on the OPP to be more consistent with her serves. She ended up only missing a couple. The bigger issue seemed to be the offensive team tooling the block on sets to position 4. One thing at a time, though.

From there I did a series of 4 v 5 games. The first time around the setter was on the 4 side. The second time through she was on the 5 side. The first round the 4 served the 5, then received a defensive ball after the initial rally. The second round the 5 served the four and then got the second ball. We played games to 10, rotating MBs and OHs along the way. On the team without the setter, a MB took the second ball.

We finished up with hitters against defense to work on employing the rotation defense (defender in 1 comes up to cover tips, 6 rotates toward the line, 5 goes deep corner, 4 takes outside the block). Basically, I just tossed balls to a trio of attackers in 4. Not exactly the sort of thing I’d usually do, but so be it.

Wednesday
We played at home against Danish side Amager. This is a team we played in our second match on the Saturday of the preseason tournament. We won relatively convincingly. I remember them as being an aggressive attacking squad, though one prone toward errors when under blocking pressure (perhaps because of youth), and not quite as good defensively as the other Danish teams we’ve faced (which tend to be very scrappy).

The result was a disappointment in that we lost 0-3, but it was a very competitive match with every set decided by only 2 points.

One big niggle was that we were up something like 18-10 in the first set and ended up losing 24-26. I don’t know if it made any difference at all, but at the point where we had the big lead I subbed out my Swedish starting OH after she finished serving. I wanted to give my back-up OH a chance to play the rest of the way in what looked like a relatively low pressure situation. The back-up didn’t do anything wrong. She passed a couple of good balls in reception (which the other OH had been struggling to do) and didn’t get any swings in attack. I eventually put my starting OH back on in the front row (she had been hitting pretty well) after using my two timeouts to try to stem the other team’s comeback, but to no avail.

The most glaring thing to come out of the analysis of the match is that we just couldn’t stop them siding out. We were generally our usual selves, siding out at about 57% even while only passing a 1.81 on the night. We just couldn’t stop them doing it (they were 61%). Partly, we weren’t serving effectively enough – 4 aces against 10 errors, with some of those errors coming at unfortunate times. Partly they made a good adjustment to attack over the top of our undersized back-up setter. We tried to make a couple of adjustments, both in the block and defensively, but just weren’t good enough.

I asked our injured starting setter her impression as she sat on the bench through the whole match. She felt like once again the team was playing not to lose.

Friday
We had a productive talk before training about Wednesday’s match and general developmental needs moving forward. I had each player share their own thoughts as a way to get broader contribution to the conversation and to avoid the stronger personalities (read the Americans) dominating. Increased and better communication was a theme from the players – partly to improve information flow, but also to increase engagement and intensity between the players. There was also some talk about being better digging the ball in terms of more taking a step and less lunging with the arms.

I brought up our troubling slide in performance in terms of scoring points when we have serve. It’s been trending lower from the beginning of the season. I talked about how this correlates to increased technical work on defense. I didn’t say there’s a causal link, but I did talk about the need to work on defense in a more integrated fashion – which means more game-like training.

The issue there, as I said to them, is our small squad size. We just don’t have the bodies at present (though we’re hoping to bring in more for at least training) to be able to go high intensity for long periods. I talked about how we’ll have to adapt things to be able to get the training intensity we need to work on the transition game properly.

I also brought up the need to have more awareness of what’s happening on the other side of the court. I asked the players which of them actually pays attention to player movements and how a play is developing and doesn’t just watch the ball. Not surprisingly, the three Americans (the most experienced players) raised their hands, but I saw a lot of sheepish looks from the rest. The players then related that back to being more vocal on court during play.

With all but the Americans heading off for a 2-day national U23 tournament over the weekend, I kept training relatively light. After warm-up and pre-hab, I had them play Amoeba Serving for fun. I then gave them 5 minutes to work on aggressive serves. From there we shift to serving and passing quads (2 servers, 1 passer, 1 target), but only for 5 good passes per player.

Next I had them play a variation of the cooperative cross-court hitting drill. Instead of attacking cross-court, though, I had them attacking line. I had the primarily left side players (the three OHs and the Libero) against the Setter, OPP, and MBs. On the OH side the libero was fixed and everyone rotated around her to play setter in 3, defender in 6, and attacker in 4. On the other side the players all rotated through 3, 2, 1, and 6.

After a few minutes to develop a rhythm and have some good rallies, I shift it to a competitive game with blocking. The teams did their rotations after each rally rather than after they sent a ball over the net. Rallies were begun with alternating free balls, which kept the tempo quite high. It was a good exercise for working on hitting against a generally strong block and hitter coverage. They played 2 games to 11, both of which were tightly contested.

Training finished up with Speedball Winners in teams of 2 playing on half court.

Thoughts and observations
Once more the team responded positively to a loss in terms of examining their developmental needs and coming up with solutions.

During the last two exercises on Friday, the starting setter – still sidelined because of her back (though it was improving) – did a really good job of getting our O2 and OPP focused on transitioning and making good approaches. It paid off in some much better swings and well-disguised roll shots. I actually made a similar point to our young setter about her jump serve approach, as she was slowing it down when she wanted to short serve. These are things we’ll have to remain focused on moving forward – with those players and others.

Other stuff
The manager had a talk with our 2nd team coach about using some of his players in our training. Five names were discussed. He was going to speak with them over the weekend.

Coaching Log – Oct 12, 2015

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

Based on the stats from the first match, there were a couple of areas of focus I had in mind for this week’s training. One was hitting. Our kill % from the Örebro match was only 30%, and we probably need to be at 40% or better. Also, our hitting error % was right around 18% (not counting blocked attacks), which is too high. It probably needs to be around 10%. These targets are based on last year’s statistics. A big part of this is increasing our effectiveness out of the middle. We only had 6 kills on 30 swings, which is way too low for that position.

By comparison, the official passing numbers look quite good, with a nearly 50% perfect rating. Our bench numbers have it at less than 40%, though, but one match with the vast majority of balls going to one player isn’t really enough to go on. That will remain an area of focus regardless.

The flip side of that is serving. We could be doing better there in terms of focusing on our targets, hitting seams, etc. Örebro is listed as having a 55% perfect rate, which no doubt is at least as inflated as our own, but still goes to show that we could put more pressure on the opposition.

Monday
I got the player’s impressions on Saturday’s match and shared my own at the start of training. We also walked through the 6 serve reception rotations to look at ways we can change things up if needed, and took a look at the rotation defense. That’s something we’ll probably do some work on in the future to have available in case we want to use it.

The talking and walk-through ate up some time in an already shorter session (Monday’s are 2 hours). I wasn’t worried about it, though, as I wouldn’t have wanted to go very long anyway since my plan was to put a heavy focus on the MBs.

After warm-ups I had them play the Amoeba serving game to work a bit on serving accuracy and to get the competitive juices flowing. That resulted in a discussion about over-thinking things because they were making assumptions about rules that were never stated or intended, which came back around later in training in a different context.

I had them play Winners after that, but with a new wrinkle. This time I had both the setters and middles be fixed. The rest of them were split up into teams of 2, so the final result was that they played 4s. I also had them run it on a narrow court to encourage rallies and to force the hitters to find more ways of scoring. About midway through I had the MBs switch to work with the other setter.

From there we progressed to a 5 v 5 playing 3 up and 2 back (Zone 6 was designated as out of bounds). In this game only the MBs could score. They got a point by either getting a kill or a block, or by the other MB making an error. If someone other than the MB scored, that team earned the right to receive serve. The first game had the setters in 1 for the purposes of serve reception.

What I ended up observing was that balls were being forced to the MB in positions where their chances of getting a kill were virtually nil. Again, the players were over-thinking as I never said only the MBs could attack. We talked about the decision-making and how sometimes the better play was to not go for the point. After that, I moved the setters to 4 for serve reception and had the MBs switch teams. The second set ended up being much more competitive.

I had them do some target serving to finish training.

I didn’t take any stats on it, but I felt like the focus on running the middle attack had the passers more locked in. It also served to force a bit more creativity and invention in the attack, and might have provided a few ideas for use in matches. That was the point, so good outcome from that perspective.

Tuesday
We had a couple of guest players for training to bring our number up to 12, so I took the opportunity to work in some 6 v 6 activities. After warming-up and doing some ball-handling I had them play Speedball. As with Monday, though, I had the setters and MBs fixed, so it was 4 teams of two playing with them.

We then moved on to a combination of games. The primary one was Baseball, which we played through all 6 rotations. That was to work on transition play. Because I only have two MBs and they would have to play front row all the time, after each inning I pulled them out to serve for a 3 point wash-game. It featured alternating serves to get a bit more serve reception work, with the winner of the initial rally getting a second ball. If they won that rally as well, they got the point. I saw a lot of good defense in those games.

After doing some target serving, I finished up with a couple rounds of Scramble to work on staying focused on the job at hand (letting mistakes go) and developing more calm during scrappy periods in matches.

Wednesday
Back to the core group. After a physically demanding session on Tuesday, and having weight training beforehand, this was a somewhat lower intensity practice. It actually started with a discussion about the stats from Saturday’s match. They were substantially adjusted at the league level. Our team hitting efficiency jumped up to .268 with a near 40% kill rate. Although the numbers for our middle attack were better, they still weren’t where they need to be, so I wasn’t operating under a false evaluation in my earlier sessions.

On the flip side, our passing numbers went totally the other way. Our perfect pass percentage was 11%. The thing about passing numbers, though, is they are heavily reliant on the characteristics of the setter. My suspicion is that the revised figures were strict interpretation rather than reality based. Regardless, we’ll be focusing on our own bench stats for consistency’s sake.

After our usual warm-up game, we did some positional digging in pairs. That was followed by serving and passing with setters and MBs getting some work on their connections. From there we went to back court attack winners 3s, and then Speedball with fixed setters. The remainder of the session was 5 v 5 play using a wash game. We played 3 front, 2 back. One side had defenders in 5 and 6 and the other had them in 1 and 5. The empty spaces were declared out. I rotated players around so they were attacking and defending in both ways.

Friday
We had a guest male player to get us up to 11 for this training, which actually was in our Monday gym because of a community event in our main hall.  After warm-ups, we did Continuous Cross-Court Digging to keep working on digging technique and general defensive mentality. I’ve seen definite improvements in both areas of late, particularly in the mentality.

To carry the defensive stuff over into game play while also starting to prepare for game play later, we next played back court attack Winners 3s with fixed setters. That then shifted to narrow court Winners 4s with fixed setters and middles to continue the week’s work on developing our middle offense.

From there we did a pair of alternating games. First was Bingo-Bango-Bongo to work on transition play. Because of the strain that puts on the MBs, though, after each round of that we shifted the MBs into a serving and defense roll and played a wash game of 5 v 5 with no middle blockers. The session finished with a regular game of 5 v 6.

Sunday
Our match was at 15:00, after the second team played theirs. It was against Sollentuna, which is another one of the northern teams in the league. My review of their match from last weekend pointed to struggles in serve reception and a very shallow defense which made them vulnerable to deep attacks. The feeling was that the main focus should be on serving effectively and putting up a good block against their strong OH.

Unfortunately for the home crowd, it didn’t turn out to be the most exciting match. Aside from a couple of tricky patches, we were the dominant side in a 3-0 win. As expected, Sollentuna struggled in serve reception, which resulted in a lot of high outside sets. Our block was a bit off to start, but adjusted and forced their best hitter into quite a few errors.

Thoughts and observations
We continue to get overly excited in our play. It’s getting better, but we’re still making errors of the over-aggression type – like wanting to win the match with a single swing. Need to keep working on that.

Defense generally showed good improvement over the week, especially in the commitment perspective. I’d like to see more 2-armed digging efforts, though, to improve ball control.

I’d like to see us do a little more bettering the ball at times.

Other stuff
I finished up with initial individual meetings this week, which I think went pretty well. I could see immediate effects from some of the discussions in training during the week.

The second team coach asked to use two of our non-starters in their match, which was before ours. Both got a lot of playing time, especially since the match went 5.

Coaching Log – Sep 14, 2015

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

Here’s how things went over the second week:

Monday
We had two guest players in training, including an OH who played for the club two seasons ago that we’ve been trying to bring back into the fold (logistics have been a problem). I knew about one of them, but didn’t find out about the other until about 30 minutes before I had to leave for training. Needless to say, that forced me to rethink the plan. On the plus side, though, it allowed for 6 v 6 work, which we hadn’t been able to do since the prior Tuesday.

I had them start with 21 as a ball-handling warm-up. We were only on one court, so that meant groups of 4 rather than 3 as I would have preferred. Their objective was to go all the way through the 3 stages non-stop. Interestingly, only one group was able to do so before I had them all shift to 2 v 2 over-the-net pepper to finish warming-up from an attacking perspective.

I followed that with a bit of serving, some back row only Speedball Winners 3s, and then standard Winners 4s. The latter two both featured defined teams. For the standard Winners I added a requirement that teams must double block against a front row attack. My motivation there was to both work on blocking and to ensure the hitters were attacking in a somewhat realistic situation – at least from a block perspective. It took them a while, but eventually they got the blocking situation figured out.

I used about the last hour to run the 22 v 22 game to keep working on serve reception and development of the offense. We only got through 3 rotations, though, so the plan was to finish up with the other 3 on Tuesday when I knew we would again have 12 players.

Tuesday
I started off with an awkward 13 players for training, though one of my OHs was having some physical issues, so she ended up on limited duty (serving and some video). I started it off by splitting the setters and a libero out to working setting reps, and the rest to work on blocking movement as warm-ups. I then moved the MBs over to work with the setters and had the remaining hitters doing 3 v3 over-the-net pepper to continue their warm-up. After doing some serving, we finished the last 3 rotations from the 22 v 22 game the night before, then played one standard game to 25.

After training I addressed some things the players wanted to bring up with regards to how we want to play, getting in more focused serve reception work, and adding conditioning to training.

More focused serve reception work is something I’ve been thinking about in terms of dealing with the limits of space for serving when having multiple courts up. I think I have a solution for that, though.

I explained that adding conditioning to training (it was only one player asking for it) is not something I’m inclined to do separate from from what is achieved on the court since we only have 9-10 hours of training per week. I will, though, be adding pre-hab/prevention work at the start of all but our Monday trainings starting next week.

As for how we play in certain respects, I told them we’d walk through some things like defensive positioning at the start of Wednesday’s training. I also needed to make a decision about who takes the 2nd ball on a setter dig. That was something I put off until seeing how we were going to play defensively (libero in 5 or 6), which has now been decided (in 5).

Wednesday
Back to the core 10 players for this session. We started with a walk through of how I want the team to play defense in terms of the general system in the back court and the movement and placement of the blockers. We also sorted out who will take the second ball on a setter dig. As we talked about, though, all of this is subject to change based on opposition and how the team’s play evolves over time. We also talked about seam responsibility in serve receive. This is something we addressed before, but the players were using a mixture of approaches, so we needed to clear that up.

Following up on the serve reception, the active part of this training session involved a lot of it. I had them do a series of servers vs. passers games, had then play Speedball winners on a narrow court, and did a serve reception centered 5 v 5 game for the last part of the practice.

I took passing stats through all three activities. I know I missed a handful, but we still had more than 200 total receptions scored, 150 of which were passes by the OHs, OPPs, and liberos. That group collectively averaged just about 2.60 on a 4 point scale (4 = perfect, 3 = good, 2 = out-of-system, 1 = overpass, 0 = aced), though that doesn’t account for a couple of shared-fault aces. My primary libero candidate came in at 2.95, strongest in the group. Obviously, I’d like to see higher numbers, but we have some tough servers in the group, and I encourage aggressive serving in training, so I’m not panicking at this point.

Friday
This was the first session where I designated one main area of concentration for practice and developed everything to build in that direction (this is something I will do regularly from now on). My main focus in this training was on the offense, specifically with regards to creating advantageous attacking situations for our hitters (e.g. 1 v 1s, attacking seems, etc.). I had two additions for training, so a total of 12.

After having them do some 2-contact (dig-attack) over-the-net, first 1 v 1 and then 2 v 2, I split the group on two courts. The setters and MBs went to the side court while the main court was everyone else doing serving and passing. I had the middles go a couple times through with each setter running front and back quicks, then rotated through the OPPs and OHs in pairs to work on 1st and 2nd tempo attacks.

After the we shifted to just the main court. I had them play Winners 4s using defined teams. We went narrow court (roughly 2/3rds width) and I had them play 2 up, 2 back. The setter and either the MB or one of the 2 OHs (on on the team that had no MB) had to play front row and the hitter had to run front or back quicks, with one of the 2 back players also being a front row attacker.

From there we shifted to 6 v 6. The primary game was Bingo-Bango-Bongo, but after each successful big point scored, I mixed in a different game to give the MBs a break (only had 2). It was 5 v 5 game to 7 with the MBs alternating serves. There was an OH and OPP or Setter at the net, with three in the backrow.

We finished up with two regular games, but with bonus points. In this case, a team got an extra point for a front or back quick kill. They got a bonus point for a 1 v 1 attack on a set to one of the pins (regardless of whether a kill was registered), and +2 if they got a 1 v 0. Stuff blocks also earned a bonus point. I would have liked to have seen a few more, but bonus points were recorded for everything but the 1 v 0.

Saturday
The team had a combination club briefing and team-building type of outing organized by the team manager this day. It started with a group team goal setting exercise and a discussion of club expectations (behavior, contribution, dress code, etc.). From there they went to a recording studio where they were recorded signing their own version of a popular song (this will no doubt get on YouTube at some point!). They finished up with a trip to a place that runs group/team challenges.

The players did not know in advance what they’d be doing at any point along the way. Aside from having to sit through the talk about club expectations, they had a lot of fun together.

Thoughts and observations
Friday’s training seemed to suffer from a dip in concentration and focus. There were times the serve reception was really bad, especially for one or two key players. I do credit the servers for giving them tough balls, but I could see looks on faces that told me players weren’t totally dialed at points. Up to now I’ve allowed the players to have music on during training. Moving forward, we’ll only have that during the warm-up phase. I don’t know if that will impact focus at all, but it’s more game-like, so it’s a move I need to make anyway as we get ready for our first pre-season match on Saturday.

Other stuff
We had an OH from the 2013-14 team in train three of this week’s sessions. She did not play last season, but we’ve been hoping to get her back. The issue is transportation, which the club is trying to sort out. She was a bit rusty in her first training on Monday, and had a little bit of a physical issue, but as the week went on she her quality became apparent. It would be good to have another strong pin hitter – in training, if nothing else.

Who takes the second ball on a setter dig?

A volleyball coach posed a decision they are making with respect to where to position their libero. In this case it is considered from the perspective of who takes the second ball if the setter plays the first.

I am toying with the idea of moving the Libero to middle back. This way my outside/ds can hand set the ball to a hitter while in front of the attack line. Has anyone made the switch who would like to report on their level of success with this? My biggest hesitation is the statistical fact that most outside hitters hit the ball cross court most of the time. Therefore, having the Libero in that position (left back) seems to make the most sense. Just weighing which would serve the team better.

If I were speaking to this coach on the subject, I would ask a few of questions.

  1. How many first balls do you expect the setter to take?
  2. How many of those setter digs end up in front of the 3m line?
  3. Are your OHs’ hands much better than your libero’s bump set?
  4. How much difference is there in the digging ability of your libero and your OHs?

Another consideration in here is the defensive strengths of the players involved. By that I mean certain types of players are more oriented toward playing forward. That tends to suit playing defense in 5. Other types of players are better moving laterally. This suits playing in 6 when in a standard perimeter defense system.

And of course there’s the question of offense. Would having the setter taking the second ball negatively impact the team’s ability to score in transition?

Sample volleyball team playing guide

After taking up coaching duties for the Exeter University Volleyball Club in 2012, I realized the need to put together a sort of playing guide. I was dealing with a lot of relatively inexperienced players. I was also working with players from an array of different countries (something like 25 all together). The guide was something to give everyone the basic structure in which we’d be playing. With only a couple of training sessions each week, and not much time between the conclusion of tryouts and the start of competition to get things done, it was a way to speed up the process of developing team play.

The guide goes over a few primary areas of focus:

  • Rotation-by-rotation set up for a 5-1 system.
  • Rotation-by-rotation primary serve reception formation (with notes and observations)
  • Rotation-by-rotation secondary serve reception formation (with notes and additional ideas)
  • Additional points of emphasis for serve reception.
  • Diagrams for base defense and notes
  • Diagrams for perimeter (middle back) defense against for attacks through zones 4, 3, and 2
  • Notes and thoughts on defense implementation
  • Free ball and down ball defense

Overall the guide is 9 pages long. Depending on the your team and players, you might find it useful in helping introducing the 5-1 offense and/or the basic ideas of the perimeter defensive system. I think it’s a pretty comprehensive look at things, but because it was written for a specific situation there may be things which are more or less applicable for you and your own team/program.

If you want a copy, fill out the form below.