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Coaching Log – Jan 11, 2016

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

Back into competition this week. We played our first Oresund Liga match of the second half on Wednesday (essentially scheduled as a tune-up coming off the break) and then headed up to Uppsala for Gran Prix over the weekend. Most of the rest of the league played a set of Elitserie matches on Tuesday.

Monday
This wasn’t a great session in terms of focus and intensity. It was apparent right away. I had them start with volley tennis and it was ugly. This is normally a pretty competitive game with good rallies, but today that wasn’t the case at all.

After that, I wrapped to spells of target serving (1 to 5, 5 to 1 then 1 to 1, 5 to 5) around a game of back row 3s with fixed MBs blocking and doing the setting.

The remainder of training involved a series of 5 v 5 games. One side didn’t have a front row OH and the other didn’t have a front row OPP (back row setter). For each game one team served every ball. The score started at 18-20 in favor of the serving team on the idea that the receiving team should have a point scoring edge. We played 2 games, flipping the serving side for the second, then I rotated players around. Overall, we probably played 10 games.

The lack of focus really showed up in serve reception. As I told the players afterward, the passing made the servers look really, really good. I said I expected more focus and higher intensity on Tuesday.

Tuesday
We talked scouting for Wednesday’ match before the start of training. After that, told the players we wouldn’t go more than about 90 minutes and that I expected full intensity. The plan was to only do two primary exercises, one to focus on blocking and OH set tempo, and the other to mix serve reception and transition play.

After warm-ups I put the players in the following configuration. Setter, OPP, MB, OH, and Libero on one side. Front row setter, two MBs, and two OHs on the other. One of the back row players on each side was designated server. We did alternating serves. The first ball had to go to the front row OH, but if a rally ensued later balls could go anywhere. The focus for me was watching the positioning of our block, though the setters and OHs working on their tempo was also a key. After 5-7 good serves for each side, I rotated players around.

The other exercise was 6 v 4 using the starting line-up against the rest (the B side had 3 front, 1 back). We started with Rotation 4, which has tended to be the one we’ve struggled in the most. Each sequence had 3 balls. The first was a serve from the 4 side. The second was a free ball to the 4 side. The last was a free ball to the starting 6. To finish a rotation the 6 had to win 21 rallies. We only got through 4 rotations, but that was enough.

Energy and focus were much improved. The starters could have done better in the last part considering, but the intensity was good. The passing was markedly better than it had been the day before.

We found out at the end of training that Engelholm had easily beaten Örebro in their league match. This was a bit of a surprise – not in terms of them winning, but in terms of how lopsided the scores were (18, 11, 20). Lots of hitting errors for Örebro.

Wednesday
The match against Holte was a lot like when we played them the first time around. By that I mean it was a battle and nervy – at least from a coaching perspective. In a lot of ways, it was like going into a match against someone you’ve never seen. Over the break Holte brought in a new MB from Poland where her PlusLiga team folded mid-season (interestingly, the Brøndby coach was on-hand scouting the new addition). They also had back some players who didn’t play us the first time around, and one we did play was in a different position.

We won 3-1, but didn’t make it easy on ourselves. The first set was our best overall, with a 25-22 win. We passed a 1.86, sided-out at 64% and scored at 44%. Passing was pretty much downhill after that.

We got off to a horrible start to the 2nd set, falling behind 0-7 before finally getting going after I took a timeout. We played a lot better from there and clawed back to within 2 by midway into the set, but then had another rough patch that saw us get to down 14-20. Again, we pulled ourselves back into it to eventually fall 21-25. Had our back-up setter not missed her serve (subbing for our M1) to give Holte set point – after which we scored 4 points – we might have been able to get even closer.

We were the ones to jump ahead in the 3rd set, going up 5-1, but they slowly pulled it back, and by mid-set they manged to nose ahead. They eventually got out to a 22-17 advantage. From there, however, we dominated and eventually won 25-23.

Our starting setter suggest before the start of Set 3 that we spin the rotation a bit to get a better our O1 more swings against their small setter. I resisted at that point because we would almost certainly start in the same rotation on Saturday against Engelholm in Gran Prix. As a result, I wanted us to work through any issues we had. I did, however, turn the rotation back 2 clicks for the start of Set 4. I didn’t do this for a match-up, but rather to change things on our side in hopes of not repeating the start of Set 2.

Not sure that really worked, though, as we fell behind 0-4. That eventually saw us down 10-14 and 13-18 before we finally started to legitimately get on top of things. We tied it at 19-19 and eventually won going away 25-21.

Passing in the 4th set was pretty poor – 1.58. We managed a 59% side-out rate, but it was our serving that really made the difference. We had a 50% point scoring rate, thanks in part to 5 aces, which was nearly half of our match total.

Serve reception aside, I wasn’t really pleased with our defense. Positioning was, in particular, problematic (6 playing too shallow, line defender off the line and/or too shallow, etc.), but we also didn’t make digs we should have made. Our block seemed, for the most part, to be pretty well positioned. We only got 6 total blocks, but that doesn’t necessarily tell the story. I think a couple of our servers could have been more aggressive (too soft and loopy).

I was reasonably satisfied with our offense, though I did talk with our setter about play calling. She felt like she didn’t have a very good match in terms of execution, which is probably fair. There were a number of tight sets. One of the things I found myself thinking about afterwards is that we need to have a discussion about hitter audible set calls. They are making the calls, but I’m not sure how much tactical thinking is going into them.

The other broader issue I brought up with them during the match was that the energy level wasn’t where we normally play at. Our M1 at one point during a break specifically addressed body language and facial expressions and how we needed to fix them. The way we play with joy and passion is a key factor in our success so far, and something often commented on by those who see us in action.

Since we didn’t have a proper training coming up before Gran Prix, I took a minute after the match to speak with the team about the performance, which I don’t normally do. It was positively focused, though, and brief. I just complimented them on the big comebacks in the 3rd and 4th sets, telling them to file those away for use in the future when things get a bit rough.

We found out late that evening that Engelholm and Hylte were both in the process of signing new American OHs. These were anticipated moves. The timing was such that it would be really tight getting all the paperwork done in time for Gran Prix, but it might have been possible. Hylte’s signing is Kelsey Fien from Nebraska, who will be a big presence at the net, but is going to be a question in terms of back row play as she didn’t play back row in for the Huskers. Engelholm’s signing is Erin Fairs from Louisville.

Separately, Lindesberg has brought in a new setter – a Dutch player named Lydie van Deursen who played in the States for 2015 NAIA National Champs Columbia. Lydie’s last season at Columbia was in 2014, though.

Friday
Uppsala is a lengthy drive, which we started at about 10am. The plan was to stop for lunch along the way, and then to have an hour of court time after we got up there to shake off the effects of the long drive, with dinner following. That is what happened, but not on the time line expected. What was expected to be a 6-7 hour trip turned into a 10 hour haul due to snowy weather, road conditions, and dodgy tires on one of our vans.

We found out Thursday that Fien got her clearance to play for Hylte. I got to peak in on Engelholm’s training when we were waiting for our own upon arriving in Uppsala and saw Fairs working in with the first team as O1. Looked like she’d been cleared as well.

Saturday
We were given an 8:45-9:30 serve & pass slot ahead of our 12:30 match. The first semifinal between Hylte and Örebro started at 10:00. Hylte won 3-1, with their new player in the line-up – though I doubt they’d have needed her.

Gran Prix 2016 program 2016-01-10 08.00.16

Our match was definitely the more competitive of the two. Engelholm  did indeed start their new OH, and I’d have to say she made a difference. She was more solid in passing and defense then the player she replaced, and more potent in attack as well. Their big OPP was the still the main offensive threat, but especially early in the match we were able to limit her impact and force a number of hitting errors.

We traded set victories with us taking the first and third fairly comfortably, and them grabbing the second and fourth in closer fashion. In the end, they held us off to take the fifth 15-13. Arguably, there was a bad call by the R1 toward the end of the fourth set that might have cost us that one. I was at a bad angle to see the play, but others told me it was a bad call. Even still, you have to win by 2, so one single play wasn’t the difference in winning and losing.

I was asked by our club chairman for a comment on the match. After a bit of thought, I said the two teams could have been said to be quite even in the first half of the season, having split our regular season matches by equal 3-2 scores. Arguably, they made a significant upgrade to their team. The fact that we fought them very close without a similar upgrade of our own means we’re doing some good things.

I think the biggest thing we could have done better was decision-making, particularly in the offensive side of play.

By the way, this was the first time in my coaching in Sweden and Denmark that we had line judges.

Sunday
Our loss on Saturday meant a 9am match with Örebro to compete for the tournament bronze. Personally, I was happy to have a chance to play them given we haven’t seen them since the first week of the season. In a sense, it was like playing someone new. It was also an opportunity to reinforce the comparative strength of the southern group vs. the northern one.

All that said, anyone who’s ever been in a position to play for 3rd place after a heart-breaking loss in a semi knows how tough it can be to get motivated. Combine that with the early start and you get a 25-12 drubbing like we took in the first set. We passed horribly and our serving was lackluster resulting in them having about a 75% sideout rate. After the side change, the line judge on that side of the court asked me before the new set where our fighting spirit was. I told him apparently it was still in bed.

The second set didn’t start off much better. I think I called timeout at 3-8 and was pointed with them. I said something along the lines of asking them if they wanted to play like crap for another set and a half. Things didn’t get a whole lot better from there until we 10-19 down. Then the switch got flipped, or something. We scored the next 10 points and ended up winning 30-28. Our attack got in gear and we started digging more balls.

The next two sets were both one-sided. We couldn’t hold on to the momentum and lost 25-17. After that I turned the rotation to put our O1 going across the front from the beginning and we ran away 25-15 winners. The funny thing is in both those sets we passed a 2.0. The difference was in the 3rd we sided out at 50% and scored at 25% and in the 4th we sided out at 75% and scored at 54%.

I kept the 4th set rotation to start the 5th and we got out to an early lead, but then allowed them to get ahead in to the side change, 8-6. They eventually got to up 10-8, but then we ran off six straight to go up 14-10. We finished 15-12.

They have to keep learning the lesson of having to play with good energy and spirit and attacking aggressiveness to succeed.

Thoughts, observations, and other stuff
The other two Elitserie matches from Tuesday went basically as expected. Gislaved and Lindesberg beat RIG and Sollentuna respectively 3-0. Those results didn’t alter the table at all. Engelholm’s win, however, drew them into a tie with us on 24 points, but we retain top spot on sets.

Our win over Holte moved us up to 2nd in the Oresund Liga table. We’ve played more matches than the teams above and below us, however.

Engelholm ended up winning Gran Prix with a 5-set victory over Hylte. One of the sets they won was 25-5. We had already left by then, but I was told it was 16-0 before Hylte finally scored. Wow!

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.

What’s the objective of defense in volleyball?

Previously, I introduced a debate related to set tightness. That came out of an FIVB Outside Hitter seminar I attended in 2015. That certainly generated some intense exchanges. What I want to talk about in this post is another idea Mark Lebedew brought up during the seminar. It might change the way you think about some aspects of what you do with your team.

Mark said the objective of defense is to score points.

Think about that for a second. Chances are up to now you thought the objective of defense is to keep the opposition from scoring a point.

The distinction is important. Mark told the story of the USA men several years ago when they made a decision to use their libero in 6 rather than in 5 to get more digs. It worked. They got loads of digs. Unfortunately, they scored fewer points in the process. Presumably it was because they didn’t have the pipe/bic available in the offense as effectively.

That’s one way of looking at things.

Another is to consider defensive positioning at a player level. In this case it’s the difference between simply getting a dig and putting up a ball which results in a set that can then be attacked with conviction. There are certain positions a player can be in defensively which increase the likelihood of producing settable digs, even though they might reduce the overall number of digs made.

Does that change how you think about your defensive system?

Drill: 3 v 3 All-Touch Transition & Attack

Synopsis: This is a good game-play exercise that gets every player lots of touches and works especially on transition hitting.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for intermediate and higher levels.

Requirements: 6+ players, a ball, a net, extra antennae

Execution: Attach the spare antennae to the net to create a channel for attacking in Zones 2 and 4 (similar to what’s discussed here). Place three players to a side, with one at the next in Zone 2 (opponent’s Zone 4), one as the OH, and one as back court defender. One side starts the attack with a set to 4. The opposing player at the net blocks line, so the two others defend the angle. If the back court player digs the ball, the blocker sets the OH in Zone 4. If the OH digs the ball, the back court player sets the blocker in Zone 2, in which case the OH hitter on the other side blocks and the other two play defense. In this case the pattern is same in that if the front court player digs the ball, the back court defender sets the blocker, otherwise the blocker sets the OH. In other words, every player touches the ball each play. Continue until the ball goes dead, then the players rotate.

BertrandDrill

Variations:

  • This can be done cooperatively to encourage longer rallies.
  • The antennae can be adjusted to alter what the hitters have available to swing at around the block.

Additional Comments:

  • This drill is from England Junior National team coach Bertrand Olie and was posted as part of an interview with him on the Volleyball England website.
  • As a cooperative drill this could be used as a warm-up.

Thoughts on the Coach vs. Defense Drill

A drill you’ll see a lot of in volleyball pre-game warm-ups is coach vs. defense. By that I mean players are on-court in their defensive positions with a coach attacking at them from near the net. For example, the coach is in position 2, there’s a setter in position 3 with defenders in positions 1, 6, and 5. The coach hits the ball at the defenders, they dig to the setter, and the setter sets the ball to the coach to be attacked again.

There are any number of variations on this structure. You could have fewer or more defenders on the court. There are different ways to have players sub in and out. Sometimes players rotate based on who plays the ball. Regardless, the basic idea is to give the players a defensive warm-up. Maybe there is work on covering exposed space and communicate.

Volleyball-Coach-Vs-Defense

I ran these drills during my earlier collegiate coaching days. I tended not to like them – especially in pre-match warm-ups. In that specific situation I found it only has a downside risk with little in the way of upside. I don’t remember any times when the players finished up coach vs. defense with an improved attitude. I can recall many times when it was a somewhat frustrating experience, though. Maybe they weren’t playing balls in seams properly. Perhaps the intensity level wasn’t as high as it should be. Maybe they were being lazy in their transitions. Whatever the case, it didn’t feel like a good preparation for the match to come.

Beyond that psychological element, I have a few other gripes.

The attack angles aren’t realistic: Unless the coach is very tall, the ball being hit at the player is coming from too low relative to the net for realism. Plus, the coach is significantly closer to the defenders than an attacker would be. This is less an issue for the deeper defenders. For those close by (line), though, it creates real reaction and anticipation issues. It also and/or forces the coach to hit the ball softer.

Lazy movement and transition: Too often when I watch this drill going I see players barely moving on defense. They are meant (in most cases) to work on going from base to defense and back. A lot of time, however, they stay just in defense. Why? Because the ball is always going to the same location. As a result, they don’t need to worry about reacting to the set location.

Too many of the wrong sets: Most of the time in these drills the setter must back-set to the coach who attacks from Zone 2. This is fine for the defenders since it replicates sets to Zone 4 on the other side. It’s a lot of reps for the setter to an area that will probably represent the minority of sets in game situations, though. Firstly, the majority of dug balls will get set to the OH in Zone 4. Secondly, by forcing the setter to set Zone 2 from all angles, you require them to set at difficult angles for would-be hitters. For example, a ball dug toward Zone 1 is generally not a ball a setter should set to a right side attacker because of the angle. This is especially true for a right-handed hitter.

Cutting things off after the dig: In a match situation after the back row players dig, they need to be moving to prepare to cover on a set to a front-row player. In this drill, though, the players instead are immediately looking toward the next attack.

Coach-centric: How you look at this aspect of the drill depends on your focus. The coach is the main driver of this drill in most set-ups. That means they can control things quite a bit – for better or worse. If you’re the only coach, being an active participant in the drill means you’re going to have a hard time watching the fullness of what’s going on. It also means that if you want to make a coaching point you have to completely stop the drill. Not good if you just want to talk with one player.

Getting to success: Many of the ways coaches run coach vs. defense don’t have a positive objective to them. One example a player or a group of players rotate out on an error or the ball hitting the floor. That’s not the kind of confidence-building experience you want the players to have pre-match.

Of course every drill has drawbacks. Whether you use any given one depends on whether the value your players get out of it offsets the negatives. There are a few ways you can potentially improve the coaching vs. defense drill for your purposes, though.

1. Take yourself out: If you have an assistant coach, great! If not, consider using a player in the attacker role. The the latter introduces some other potential issues, but the general idea is to allow you to step back and observe. That will let you coach without necessarily having to stop the entire drill to do so.

2. Have a goal: Instead of running the drill for time or until someone makes a mistake, give the players an objective to reach before they sub out or rotate or whatever. It could be a number of good dig-set reps or a given amount of time without the ball dropping, or whatever suits the needs of your team. The idea here is to give the players a feeling of accomplishment at its finish rather than a sense of failure or punishment.

3. Add in a second attacker: In order to force players to be more disciplined about their defensive movement, make it 2-hitter drill by having hitters in both Zone 2 and Zone 4. Giving the setter two options forces the defenders to return to balance between plays.

4. Attack from over the net: This isn’t something you’ll be able to do in pre-match warm-ups, of course, but it might be something you can work-out in training. Done efficiently, it will allow you to incorporate more realistic setting situations for the setter and coverage movement for the defenders if done effectively.

Those are just some thoughts I have. What do you think? Do you use a version of coach vs. defense that you like? How can we make it better and more realistic?

Coaching Log – Feb 10, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

This training session started with an announcement. We got official word earlier in the day that we’ve been granted a bye for the round of 16 of the BUCS Championships. This was a stunning development, and we’re not entirely sure how we got to be the beneficiary of this particular bit of league largess, and I’m sure there are other teams out there wondering why us. Regardless, we’ll go directly to Final 8s, meaning we’ve achieved the objective we had from the beginning of the year. It also means we have qualified for the new BUCS Premier League next season.

Naturally, that took up a bit of the start of training, shortening the effective session length. Given the announcement, I didn’t plan for a particularly hard or focused session, so instead did something a bit mixed with some fun elements.

After dynamic warm-up, I had the players do over-the-net pepper, using two groups of 4 and a group of 3. I rotated players around periodically to offset the harder work done by those in the group of 3. From there we went into serving. After warming up, I had them play amoeba for a bit of fun and competition. We did a best-of-5 as individual games with this group don’t tend to last very long.

At this point I had originally thought to do some hitting, but time remaining was starting to get limited, so I instead went with Continuous Cross-Court Digging, which I know the players like. After that, knowing we’d do some 6 v 6 play, I had them play Winners 3s on a 2/3rds width court as preparation. I then asked them which game they wanted to play. The two leading choices were Bingo-Bango-Bongo and Scramble. That should tell you a lot about how much this group likes to work in training since both those games are essentially continuous action. Scramble ended up winning out, and I had them go through six rotations.

At the end of the session I talked with them about key focus points moving forward – namely being more composed in scramble situations, playing with purpose, and being aggressive in our hitting. All of this is stuff that will be important come Final 8s. I also talked about the upcoming schedule for the second team, as they will have their Cup quarterfinal near the end of the month. Due to the injury last week, there needs to be some adjustments to personnel. I plan on bringing the serve receive work I mentioned previously into full force for next training.

Coaching Log – Feb 5, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

I wanted to work on a couple of things in this training. Specifically, I wanted to continue the focus on blocking which I’ve been developing in the last couple of weeks. I also wanted to introduce a rotational defense as something we could want to go with in the Championships (we’ve been playing a fairly standard perimeter defense thus far).

After dynamic warm-up, I had the team do serving and passing triples to get a bit of light ball-handling in. I then walked them through the rotational defense and did some positional digging for MB and OH players to have them work on the movement patterns. I didn’t extend it further than that because that was leaving many players out.

I followed the defense work with positional hitting and blocking. I had the OHs hitting up against the OPPs and MBs, then the OPPs vs the OHs and MBs. I picked on two major points of focus. One was block positioning, as I’ve witnessed the pin blockers often failing to properly adjust the position of their block based on set location and hitter approach angle. The other was timing as latest was a regular problem in our matches last week. My assistant coach took video to show players what they were doing.

I wrapped up the hitting by having the MBs work on quick attacks of a pass. This meant having much of the team on ball-retrieval duty, but they did a good job of being supportive and cheering on the hitters.

After that we did winners 3s, but only using 2/3rds of the court, width-wise to encourage rallies. I did that to prepare for full-team action to follow.

Unfortunately, one of the MBs hurt her thumb during the blocking, so we only had 10 available to play 6s. I hadn’t planned on anything which really required proper 6-person teams, but it did force me to keep the two available MBs in the front row the whole time while I could flip OHs and OPPs and Setters around. The first game I played was Second Chance so I could encourage aggressive hitting and work on other weaknesses.

After that I moved to the Scramble Game. This was the first time I’ve used it for this team. My decision to do it was so that I could reinforce some ideas like playing with composure in frantic situations and covering teammates and open court areas. I went with a variation where I introduced balls to one side for a minute – adding 15 seconds if they ever didn’t go for a ball. After each side scrambled I did a positional flip which effectively meant we played four “rotations”. We kept score and it ended 31-30, so I guess I did a good job picking even teams. 🙂

Things wrapped up with the Pit Drill – a.k.a. coach-on-1. This is also something I’ve not done with the players before, so I wasn’t sure how long to go. I opted for a conservative 30 seconds, but immediately realized 45 seconds probably would have been the better choice.

Unfortunately, on the very last ball to the very last player we had an ankle injury. Otherwise, I felt like the training did a good job of building in intensity and working on the key focus points. I need to come back around to the rotational defense to have it used in actual game situations, which I couldn’t really do this training, but should be able to do next week. Likewise with getting quick attacks into the play consistently. Blocking seemed improved and I was generally happy with the hitting.

One thing I do have to get much more involved in training next week is serve receive. It’s something I haven’t given a great deal of focus to recently, beyond some serving & passing drills. I’ll need to get it into the flow of the 6s work rather than starting play with free balls, scramble balls, etc.

Coaching Log – Jan 27, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

The men’s team was given the opportunity to do joint training with the local NVL men’s side, so the women had the opportunity to go a little longer than usual this session. I took advantage of that to mix the squad up a bit more for 6 v 6 play than I might have otherwise done. I did this because I wanted to give the starters the chance to play against each other a bit rather than just playing against the B team.

After the dynamic warm-up I had them do the Twenty-One drill in groups of four to get in some ball-handling and additional warm-up. I then put them through some individual digging of balls myself and my assistant hit over the net. After that we did some target serving, and from there I moved them in to winners 4s. That hadn’t been my original plan, but I did it to accommodate a player development, to mix the players up in game play, and to prepare them for playing 6s.

After that I did 4 rounds of the 22 v 22 game. I split the players up such that each team had one line of starters and one line of second teamers. In the first round I matched up the first team front rows. After that I flipped the lines in an alternating fashion so all four combinations were played. From there we went on to starters vs. second team playing Bingo-Bango-Bongo. At the end I had them finish with some short serving.

It wasn’t an easy session. The players were clearly flagging toward the end in terms of energy and focus. Following Sunday’s long day for 8 of them, it wasn’t a major surprise. From my perspective, it was quite a frustrating practice. I’ve been harping on a lot of mental stuff, and got on them when they weren’t doing things like covering properly. I also got on them about panicky play, in particular just putting balls back over the net and giving up unnecessary free balls.

At the end of the session I talked with them about my frustrations. I told them how I felt, but that it was a reflection of increasing expectations as the team has gotten better. They will eventually get there. I’m basically training them for Championships and they know that. I will be much more positive with them on Wednesday when they play their next league match.

Coaching Log – Jan 15, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

There were a couple of things I wanted to get out of this training. First, I wanted it to be physically demanding with a fairly high tempo either individually or for the group collectively. Second, I wanted to bring both blocking and individual digging into the fold since we didn’t do that last training. Lastly, I wanted to get in a bit of technical work on hitting and take some video for players to reference.

Tardiness was an issue last term that we addressed in the meeting on Monday. Everyone was in the gym on time for the session, but a couple weren’t dressed and ready to go, so after the team went through their dynamic warm-up I had them do 2 minutes worth of calisthenics as reinforcement of the new policy.

From there I had them pair up at the net with one partner playing the attacker and one the blocker. The latter worked on properly fronting their attacker while the former worked on good approaches. Some of the players approach too square to the net, so I make it a focus for them to make sure their hips are open.

After the blocking I had them do over-the-net pepper in groups of 3 or 4 to get lots of ball-handling touches. They did some serving after that and then I had them do some attacking arm-swing work. It was hitting against the wall to reinforce some technique work I’d done with them last term, but with partners tossing. I wanted them working on adjusting to the ball. After that we did some hitting lines, first standard outside sets and then 2nd tempo middle balls. I took video of some of those reps (and of serving previously).

I then put them through the cross-court digging drill with myself and my assistant hitting from benches over the net for the first time. Generally speaking, it went pretty well. There weren’t a ton of overpasses, though there definitely needs to be work on getting platform angles right.

Bingo-bango-bongo was the first 6 v 6 game. Actually, since I only had 10 in training it was 5 v 5 played with 3 at the net and 2 back and zone 6 out of bounds for attacked balls. After going through several rotations I then switched to a standard game, but with each team serving three straight balls. I finished with run serve receive.

The feedback on training was that it might have been the best they’ve experienced so far – this year or last. From my perspective there were a few things that could have made it better, but it wasn’t bad. I think the players liked the physicality and tempo of it. Also, they are really growing in confidence and aggression in their hitting, so they enjoy doing that more and more.

We should have more bodies in training next week as there were a couple of players missing this week. Blocking needs a lot more work and will be a focus.