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Tag Archive for hitting

Game: Win 2 Out-of-System Rallies

Synopsis: This is a wash type of game which puts the focus on attacking in a setter-out or out-of-system situation. It can be very useful for getting pin hitters (or back row attackers) to make good decisions when not put in the best of attacking situations.

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

Requirements: 12+ players, full court

Execution: Initiate a setter-out ball (attack a ball at the setter, or otherwise require a non-setter to take the 2nd ball). Play out the rally. After the first ball, play is as normal. If the team receiving the initial ball wins the rally, they get a second ball in the same fashion. If they win both, they rotate. If they lose either the first or second ball, it’s a wash and the other team gets the setter-out ball. Play until one team rotates all the way around.

Variations:

  • You can keep a rally score tally going (each team gets a point for a rally won, regardless of who got the initial ball). If you set a score cap (like 25 points), then it will let you put a rough time limit on how long the game goes.
  • To encourage positive errors rather than negative ones, and hitter coverage, you can have a team rotate backwards if a pin hitter hits an out-of-system ball into the net or is stuff blocked.
  • Once a rotation is earned, you can either restart with a first ball to that team, or give the first ball to the other team.
  • As an alternative to initiating a setter-out ball, you could toss in a ball that is the first contact, and require a certain player (or position) to play the second contact off of it.

Additional Comments:

  • Be aware the players can be stuck in a rotation for a while in this game. In most cases it requires a team to win three straight rallies (stop the other team, then win two setter-out initations). This can be further exacerbated by having to reverse back on bad errors. You may want to consider doing rotation flips (1,4,2,5,3,6) rather than going sequentially as a result. Either that or have system to rotate players around to keep some (like MBs) from being in or out longer than desired.
  • This could be used in a small-sided game situation.

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 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.

Is blaming the hitters really the right call?

There was a post on the Volleywood website following the conclusion of the Women’s World Cup in which the author sought to explain why the US failed to finish in the top two. It’s something I’ve wanted to talk about since seeing the article, but PhD thesis work had me otherwise occupied.

Now I’ve got a chance, so here goes!

The author of the piece spends a lot of time talking about hitting errors and the team’s low hitting percentage in key matches. At the end, though, he also says the US had by far the best serve reception efficiency among the key contenders. While it’s easy to blame the hitters for poor hitting, I couldn’t help but think the problem was with poor decision-making and/or execution by the setters.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to watch any of the matches. However, when a team passes well and generally speaking has a pretty good collection of attackers, but hits poorly then my first question is whether the setter is getting the job done.

Timing of the first tempo attack

The following was posted in the Volleyball Coaches & Trainers group on Facebook by a member. Coincidentally, it relates to a discussion I had with one of the Svedala players I coached.

While semi-watching World Cup matches, the outcomes of 384 front 1 [also known as an A-quick] approaches were evaluated during 6 recent men’s World League matches to determine how the split-second timing of the approach affected the outcome. Front 1 approaches were classified “early” if the hitter’s feet left the floor before the ball left the setters hands, and “late” if the hitter’s feet were on the floor when the ball left the setters hands.

52% of the approaches were classified as early. 33% of the sets went to the quick hitter, 4.2% of which were blocked back into the hitter’s court on early approaches and 17% were blocked on late approaches. 67% of the sets went to other hitters. Of these, the opposing middle blocker was drawn to jump or was delayed 57% of the time on early approaches and only 21% of the time on late approaches. Clearly, at this level, there is an advantage to have the middle hitter in the air before the set leaves the setter’s hands on front 1’s. I’m interested to hear others’ ideas on how this would play out at lower levels.

The middles I’ve trained will tell you I often tell them to, “Beat the ball!” I want my hitters in the air by the time the ball reaches the setter’s hands. That’s the “early” approaches described above.

My philosophy is a simple one in this regard. If the quick attacker is in the air already then the opposing blocker put under enormous pressure. If they commit block, then they have to jump with the hitter. That creates a good situation for another attacker. If they read block, they will get beat by the quick set. They can’t react fast enough.

The figures above back up what I want to achieve. Early approaches lead to fewer blocked quick attacks. It also leads to more positive blocking match-ups for other hitters because the opposing middle is held or delayed.

A good addition to the stats presented would have been some kind of hitting efficiency or kill %. After all, the bottom line is whether you score points.

Top level vs. lower levels

I’ve talked with coaches of professional teams about this. I feel that at the top echelon the middles are at such a high level and attack reach that you can practically go with a 2-ball. So long as they are able to attack at full extension and only face a single block they have a strong advantage. The broader question, however, is the full offensive efficiency.Is it markedly different depending on the speed of the front quick? The numbers above tend to suggest it is.

At the end of the quote above the author asks whether things are different at lower levels of play. Obviously, if you slide down the scale far enough blocking is simply not a major consideration. You don’t have to worry about it in these terms. That level is much like the situation I just described with the top middles. You can get away with a higher set (2nd or even 3rd tempo) in the middle. The hitter still has the advantage and even for the outside sets the block tends to be fairly poor. In fact, going quick would likely lead to less offensive effectiveness. There will be an increased error rates from setter-hitter misconnections.

It’s in the middle band where I feel the speed of the front quick attack is of greatest importance. The middle blockers are big enough and fast enough to cause problems with slower middle attacks. They are also faster to close to the outside if not held by the threat of the quick attack.

A story

As a bit of evidence for this, I’ll share the story of the Exeter men from my first year. It was an undersized squad. I’m about 6’3″ myself (call it 190cm), and I think only two of the guys in the squad were my height or a little better. One was a middle and the other our OPP. We regularly faced teams bigger than us. We offset through our speed in the front quick to hold the opposing MB. This created seams in the block for our outside hitters. That saw us reach Final 8s for the first time in a long while (Exeter did win a national championship back in the 70s, but aside from that the records are pretty thin).

How fast do you really need to go?

I’ve had a discussion of how fast the front quick really needs to be to have effectiveness. I coach “beat the ball” but I know that most of the time we probably aren’t going to be fully to that standard. The bottom line is being fast enough to accomplish the two primary objectives – beat the block if it doesn’t commit and at least delay it closing on an outside set. If we’re doing those two things then I will be satisfied.

That’s not to say I won’t keep pushing the middles to go faster, though! 🙂

It’s best to set the ball tight. Debate!

During the FIVB Outside Hitting/Serving seminar I attended last week there were a number of points of discussion. One in particular generated the most intense debate. That was the idea that the best way to go is to set the ball tight to the net. This is something instructor Mark Lebedew suggested as the best option. Probably not too surprisingly, there was considerable disagreement.

It should be noted that while Mark has been known at times to say something controversial just to get a reaction, this wasn’t the case here. His three main arguments in favor of tight sets were that they give the hitter more court area into which they can attack, that the ball crosses the net more quickly (less distance to cover), and that it makes it easier for the hitter to use the block.

The US National Team coaches definitely go the other way with this. They want the ball off the net. I’m sure lots of others share that view. In fact, Sue Gozansky, who was running the parallel setting seminar at the same time was teaching those coaches that sets should be away from the net. That is certainly the more traditional view.

Tradition isn’t always right, though. So what say you? Tight sets or sets off the net? Tell us what you think and why?

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.

Working on attacking the block in games and drills

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

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

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

Game: Pin Hitter Challenge

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

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

Requirements: 2 teams, court, balls

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

Variations:

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

Additional Comments:

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