Tag Archive for line-ups

Coaching Log – Sep 28, 2015

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

Here’s how things went over the final week of pre-season:

Monday
I had one player message me on Sunday night saying she’d miss the first couple trainings of the week because she was back home in Stockholm with her family having a think about her situation because of some stuff going on off-the-court. Not exactly the sort of thing a coach wants to be getting after the fact. I told her in the future that I wanted to hear about this sort of thing ahead of time so that maybe I could help, and if not it would at least not be a surprise (a view echoed by the team manager). Needless to say, this went to the top of my list of things to talk with the team about that night.

We actually talked about a couple of different things at the start of training. Most of it was related to Saturday’s match. I let the players talk about what they thought and then added my own impressions. The two main ones were becoming a more aggressive, committed team on defense and making an adjustment to how we do hitting in the pre-match warm-up to encourage more reaching and hitting high rather than hitting balls right over the top of the net.

Only 9 players for training. I did a mix of slower tempo and faster tempo activities. It started with 21, which is on the slow side. The players struggled to complete it and I eventually stopped the drill to talk with them about the need for focus on skill execution in that sort of circumstance. In the end, only one of the three groups finished before I moved on to new things.

I introduced the Belly Drill next. After going through a non-scoring period to get them familiar with how it works, I tried something I’ve never done before. We did a kind of negative scoring system where a team earned a point for losing a rally. The first team to 21 ended the drill. We did back row attacking only, so there were some lengthy rallies. That made for a slightly longer game than I had planned, but it was fine. I liked how it played out in terms of encouraging a lot of scrambling on defense and forcing players to try to problem solve winning rallies. I also liked that it gave me an opportunity to give players a second ball right away after they’ve made an error.

We slowed things down again after that and did some serving and passing. Initially, I had the setters working with the middles off the passes. After that I also rotated the pin hitters through.

The last 10 minutes was spent playing Winners 3s on a narrow court.

Tuesday
Had 10 again for this training. After pre-hab, some partner pepper, and a serving warm-up, I did a serving and passing drill. On each side there was a setter, a pair of passers from the group of OHs and the Libero, plus a target for the setter and a server from the MB and RS group. I had the passers in 5 and 6 with the server first going from 1 and then from 5. The initial server did 10 good balls, then swapped with the target. The objective was to keep the passers working on communication, while giving the other players a chance to work on their own skills.

From there I had them do Speedball 2s (with fixed setters) on a narrow court as a game play warm-up. The rest of training was work on Rotations 2 and 5 (setter in 2, setter in 5), which were ones I identified from the rotation scoring stats of Saturday’s match as likely needing some attention. I did this through a series of mini games to 7 points with one side in each of the rotations. The Rotation 2 side had a libero back row with the setter, so they played 1 & 6 defense. The Rotation 5 side had a MB and OH back row playing in 5 & 6. I had the teams only attack in the direction of the defenders. Each mini game featured only on side serving. They played two of those games, then I rotated the 3 MBs, 3 OHs, and 2 setters alternatively. I think that means we played 5 or 6 pairs of games in total.

It was a pretty loose session in terms of the players being pretty relaxed and having fun (and the watching parents having a few laughs), but I still did a fair amount of coaching in terms of stopping things quickly at times to make a point or to talk through a positioning question.

Wednesday
Only 9 at training again this time. We share the gym with the second/Juniors team for about 30 minutes these nights as they wrap up their session. Because the players have basically just come from weight training, there’s not much need for a real warm-up. Because we’re on a side court with limited space on the ends and one side, what we can do is constrained. I’ve taken to beginning things with a game – a 2-ball, doubles version of bagger tennis (volley tennis). Basically, each team has someone underhand serve to the other side so that two balls are in play at the same time, with two players on each side. The players love it and get quite competitive.

After that, still working on the side court, we did did team cross-court pepper. Having 9 players with just one setter, I set it up to the setter was fixed on one side for the first half, then switched to the other side. That means the other side had a player rotating through setting. I also had fixed liberos in position 5.

My original plan was to play Winners 3s on the full court once the other group was done, or maybe the Belly Drill. We did play Winners, but with a twist. We grabbed some of the Juniors and mixed them in with the squad to make teams of four or five. The younger players could mainly only stay for about 15 minutes, so that was how long we let it run. It was a good, positive environment.

After that I had the players work through rotations 2, 3, and 6. With only 9 bodies, I had to set it up as MB, RS, OH, and L on each side. I set the mini games up so that one team served each ball, and the receiving team had the setter. After the initial ball, I then hit a down ball to the libero of the serving side. Along with working on those particular rotations, these games also involved a lot of work on out-of-system attacking.

I was done with what I wanted to do after about 90 minutes, so I gave the players the opportunity to work on some other stuff. They ended up doing a bunch of serving and passing with the MBs doing some hitting and blocking work in conjunction. I had my young MB play around with running a front slide.

Friday
Off to Denmark to start the Time Vision Cup preseason tournament, hosted by Brøndby Volleyball Klub. The opposition for our first match was Swedish defending champions Engelholm. We’d heard they were struggling a bit in their preseason matches, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. The team were looking forward to the match, though.

The tournament structure was round-robin pool play (2 pools of 4) over the first two days, with cross-over matches on Sunday. Each match was three sets to 25, regardless of results. My plan was to rotate the players more or less regardless of results. I began with what I expect to be our starting 7 in the first set, which we won fairly easily – mostly thanks to effective serving. Our young middle began the set with several points straight away, many aces, and that set the tone.

In the second set I swapped out the setter, libero, and right side positions. This set was closer, but we still won without too much difficulty. In the last set I started with the first set line-up, but brought in the second set subs midway through (except setter, as our young setter was a bit sick). We ended up dropping a close one, mainly because we struggled to get our block right against their one very strong attacker (OPP). That had me thinking about whether I should have played around with the match-ups a bit to see how it would have gone with our stronger hitting and blocking OH against her most of the time.

Saturday
This was a two match day against the two Danish teams in our pool. We got to see them play a bit before our match on Friday. Neither could really match us in terms of the power of our attack, but both were pretty scrappy. This day I had an extra MB and had my second libero mix in a bit at OH to give some players a break. What I decided to do was to go starters in the first set. In the second set I put the reserve MB in for the younger MB, and then put the younger one in for our American MB in the 3rd set. I had the two liberos split the first two sets, then switched the second one to OH for the third set and had her go in for the American OH. The two RS players each played a full set out of the first two, then about equally split time the 3rd set. The American setter set the first two sets with the young Swedish one acting as a serving sub. The latter then set the third set herself, meaning it was an All-Sweden third set for us in both matches.

Team Køge was up first. Not a particular big team, but solid on defense. They gave us some trouble and fought really hard. We won all three sets, but it was 22, 23, and 23 and we had to come from behind each set. The serving subs I used did a good job and really helped get us over the top.

Amager was the opposition in the second set. We’ll see them again in the Oresund Liga. They beat Team Køge the prior day thanks to having a bit more offense. We made pretty short work of them in the first two sets, though, mainly through strong serving. We did lose the third set 26-28, but had needed to come back to get it to even make it that close. There might have been a bit of a focus slip there, as having won all three matches already by winning the first two sets, we had already assured ourselves of being in the title match.

The interesting question is what I would have done if we hadn’t won the first two sets. My plan all along was to rotate the MBs and the OHs to give the American players a bit of a break. If we needed to win the third set I probably would have kept the American setter in, especially given that the young Swedish one was still under the weather.

Sunday
Hylte/Halmstad won the other pool, so was our opposition in Sunday’s final match. Like Engelholm, they are a team we’ll see at least 4 times during the Swedish season. We saw them play between our two matches on Saturday. The impression was that they were a good blocking team with some legit weapons in attack. I figured it would make for an interesting challenge for the team.

My approach to this one was treat it like the championship match it was in terms of playing to win, though for me it was still very much an evaluation opportunity. We again began the match with the presumed starters in, and promptly fell quickly behind. The energy wasn’t great. The players weren’t talking so much. We got blocked a couple times early. In the end we dropped that one 15-25.

I kept the same line-up to start the second set, but rather than starting with our setter in 5, I spun the rotation and had her start in 3 to get our stronger OH at the net. We ended up winning easily, 25-19. The rotation change may have been a factor in terms of favorable match-ups, but I think more important was the players talking through adjustments, who to go after in serve and attack, etc.

We were pretty in control for most of third set as well, using the same line-up and rotation from the second set. I did call a timeout at I think 21-20 when we’d let them creep back on us, but we ended up winning 25-22. We ended up with 15 blocks in the match, which is more than we had all of Saturday.

I would have liked to have won the first two sets again to allow me to give the back-up players a full set in the third, but I think getting slapped around in the first set actually may end up paying off in terms of getting the team to be more engaged from the start. I used all three of the bench players in at least two sets each (the first went so fast I didn’t really get a chance) and they were all effective, which is good.

Thoughts and observations
It’s always nice to get the season off to a winning start, especially when you know you aren’t playing anywhere near where you’ll be later if the players stay healthy and all that. My big focus in preseason was in getting the players working together as a unit, which they definitely did during the tournament. Now the focus will shift to working on developing some specific technical abilities, improving and expanding our defensive tactics, and refining our offensive capabilities.

Other stuff
Saturday is our first league match of the year against Örebro. We haven’t played them, so our scouting will have to be from player recollections and some video of them playing in preseason that is apparently available.

The team manager was with me on the bench for all the matches using SoloStats 1-2-3 on my iPad mini to keep track of passing and the rally-ending plays. That doesn’t give us the figures to come up with something like hitting percentages, but it does produce a fair amount of useful information on performance and rotational analysis. I’ve played around with it before, but this is the first time it’s gotten serious use. We’ll have proper stats during the matches moving forward, but it might be worth keeping in use anyway. We’ll see.

Making starting rotation decisions

A recent thread in VolleyTalk motivated by a blog post written by Joe Trinsey, who is a member of the USA Women’s National team staff and was one of the presenters at the HP Coaches Clinic back in February, brings up the question of determining the starting rotation for your volleyball team. Joe’s post is very technical and focuses on serving and hitting percentage. Some of the folks on VT bring up the idea of match-ups, which I also mentioned might be points of consideration in this lineup selection post..

Starting rotation decision-making is something that’s come up in some of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviews. Generally speaking, however, the feeling has been mainly against trying to do all that much matching up. Joe makes the point in his post that the other team could change things up and foul up the whole plan, above and beyond just looking at what the numbers say. Wizard Paulo Cunha, though, I think expressed things in the most straightforward fashion. He basically said it’s your team’s structure of play which is by far the biggest factor in its performance.

Importantly, match-ups don’t always matter nearly as much as we might think just going on intuition. A big example of this is trying to put a strong hitter against a smaller blocker. In one of the HP clinic presentations (it might have been Joe’s) it was shown that hitters don’t really change much in terms of how they attack when facing a smaller blocker. Mark Lebedew made a similar observation at the recent FIVB seminar I attended based on his analysis of German professional league play.

So before you start spinning the dial on your rotations, make sure you understand the realities underlying your decision-making process and aren’t just going based on what should theoretically be the case.

 

Putting together a starting line-up

There are a lot of questions which come to mind when considering a starting line-up. This isn’t just for inexperienced coaches. It’s something we think about for basically every team, and often from match to match. The decision of what to put on the line-up slip comes in two parts – placement of players on the court relative to each other and in which rotation they start the set.

When it comes to the order of placement of the players on the court, two factors generally dominate the considerations.

Balance

The first thing you absolutely need to look to do is create as balanced a line-up as you possibly can. You won’t come up with something where all six rotations are equally strong. You definitely want to keep any one rotation from being excessively weak, though. That’s a guarantee of finding yourself stuck giving up points in bunches. As much as it might sound great to have one really strong rotation to try to score runs of points, that rarely works out. Just too many ways to give up the sideout that ends the string. This is why most line-ups put stronger players next to weaker ones and away from each other.

For example, the classic 5-1 line-up puts the strongest MB and the strongest OH next to the setter. It ensures one of the strongest hitters is always front row with the setter. In multi-setter line-ups (6-2, 4-2, etc.) balance is created by matching stronger hitters with weaker setters.

Not that offense is the only focus. Blocking, defense and passing can also come into the equation as well.

Serve Reception

While balance is generally a question of which players are either next to our away from each other, serve reception considerations often come down to the order in which the players are placed on the court. This is where the question of whether the MB leads the setter (serves immediately before) or follows (serves immediately after in the rotation. Coaches generally favor the MB leads pattern when running 5-1 and 6-2 offenses. It allows the setter to push up toward the net more easily and offers some additional positional options. That doesn’t mean it’s always the best option, though.

Once you’ve got your players positioned relative to each other it’s time to think about the starting rotation. Here a number of things need to be considered. Generally speaking, the idea is to give your strongest point scoring rotation out first, but that’s not necessarily a simple thing. Here are some potential ways to look at it.

Strong/Weak Servers

Particularly in the younger age groups where serving can dominate, it can make a lot of sense to have your strongest server be the first one back at the line. That means you start them in Position 1 if you have serve to start the set, or Position 2 if the other team serves first. Another way to think of this is in terms of clusters of good servers. If you have two or three next to each other in the rotation, you could have them be the first ones to hit the service line, even if there is one player who is individually stronger than any of those in the cluster.

Flipping around, you could also think in terms of putting your weakest server(s) toward the back of the service order. This limits how often they serve, and by extension any negative influences from them doing so poorly.

I personally tend not to favor my best server going first – all else being equal. I’ve just found that the first serve of a set is subject to negative influences. As a result, putting your best server first often works like them going last in terms of their actual influence. I have absolutely no problem putting a weak server last, though!

Hide the Small/Feature the Big Front Row Player

If you run a 5-1 system where the setter has to play front row where they may be a blocking liability, it might make sense to start them in Position 1. That minimizes the amount of time they spend in the front row. This can apply to any position really. For example, a smaller OH could be started in the back row.

The reverse of this is maximizing the time a particularly strong front row player is at the net. That means starting them in Position 4, or perhaps Position 5.

This sort of thing also tends to limit the time you’re in a weak rotation and/or increase the time in your strongest one.

Match-Up

In some cases you may want to consider creating a favorable match-up against the opposition by starting in a certain rotation. Put your best blocker against their best hitter, your strongest OH against a small blocking S, a strong server against a weak serve receive rotation, etc. Or you could set the rotation to avoid certain match-ups.

A bit of caution is needed here, though. Just as balance is generally desirable to avoid getting stuck in a bad rotation, the same thing should be considered when looking at match-ups. It could be that trying to pit your best attacker against the opponent’s weakest blocker also creates the opposite situation. You want to make sure you keep from ending up with you having a weak rotation against the other team’s strong one.

Reader Question – Developing a 3-Middle Hitter Scheme

I had an email come in the other day from a reader.

How would you defend against a three middle offense?  Currently we are running a three middle offense, but are concentrating on being in the right position and running effective plays.  I think we need to change our thinking.  Switch to how someone defends against it, then exploit any expected weakness.

I asked for clarification on what was meant by 3-middle. How they would be employed? I got the following:

We have three players who would normally play middle. 

The starting rotation:

Middle, Outside, Middle

Outside, Middle, Setter

3 rotations have only one middle in the front … 3 rotations have 2 middles in front.  Depending on the pair of middles, one will switch to OH, while one plays Middle … or one will switch to Right Side, while one plays Middle.

Since one of our Middles is left handed, offensively we can run double slides.  We can also run a quick with one middle at the pin hitting a high outside.

I actually used a very similar type of system with a 16-and-under girls Juniors team a number of years back. I described it in the post Problem Solving: Three middle triangle. By posting this up here I hope to encourage some discussion. I’ll start it off with some thoughts of my own.

The right line-up?

I have an immediate question about a rotation where both outside hitters are in the front row together. It means you also have two middles in the back row with the setter in the same rotation. I don’t know how strong a right side attacker and/or blocker the team has with one of those OHs. I also don’t know the passing/defense talents of the MB not being replaced by the libero – or whether a DS is being subbed in on them in the back row. It strikes me that could be a sticky rotation if the personnel aren’t right.

With a lefty in the mix, I would very seriously consider playing with them at OPP. That said, a lefty hitting OH definitely causes issues for opposing blockers. Having them in the middle can be a bit trickier because the setter needs to change the placement of quick sets. It’s not impossible, just will take time to develop.

Opposition Defense

Let’s switching back to the question of about how the other teams might defend against a 3-middle team. I think quite a bit is depends on the opposition. Some teams will play the same defensive structure regardless of what the other team is doing. Either they feel they have their best possible configuration in place, or they just don’t know any different.

If I were an opposing coach able to scout your team (and with the players able to use such information), I would look at the tendencies of your team in certain types of situations and of your players in terms of where they like to hit. I would then try to make you work away from your strengths. There really isn’t a whole lot you can do to prevent me trying to do that beyond not letting me see you play. That doesn’t necessarily mean I can stop you, though. If your team executes, there may not be much I can do to stop it even if I have my team optimally positioned to do so.

Of course you do similar scouting of the opposition defense. Your goal should be to maximize the frequency with which your team can match it’s strength up against the other team’s weakness. For example, you could decide to have one of your nominal middles (is a middle who plays outside really a middle?) hit OH in one match to go up against a short setter. They could hit OPP in another match to attack a short outside hitter. Another example is to spread the offense out against teams that tend to pinch/bunch their block. Alternatively, you can run a narrow offense against teams who tend to put their wing blockers near the pins.

Playing to your strengths

It’s always hard to provide advice in a situation like this. You don’t know the level of competition. You don’t know the type of players involved, team priorities, coaching philosophy, etc. There is a compelling line of reasoning, not just in coaching but generally in life, that you should play to your strengths. Really work on developing them to a superior level and applying them as much as possible. That topic is better left for a separate discussion in its own right. It has some value in this context as a point of consideration, though.

If this team’s strength is its three player who can play MB, then it makes sense to identify the ways they are most effective. Then you set the team up to put them in those positions as frequently as possible. For example, if two of the MBs are excellent slide hitters, figure out how to configure the line-up to give them lots of opportunities to hit the slide. In this sort of situation you’re not really thinking a great deal about what the other team is doing. Instead you’re creating players able to take advantage of whatever the situation offers. Continuing with the slide example. work with the hitters on their ability to attack with a variety of shots – line and cross, tip and/or roll shot, block-out and high hands – and in different positions relative to the setter and at different tempos.

In other words, figure out what’s generally your strongest line-up and style of play. Then relentlessly work on getting better at it.

Coaching Log – Mar 9, 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

The team played it’s last round of South West league fixtures on Sunday. There is yet another round to be played this Sunday to come, but since the team will be in Edinburgh for Final 8s, the club will bring up some of the Intermediates to fill out a squad. Two relatively straightforward wins puts the team atop the table on points, though they won’t stay their when the presumptive champs catch up in terms of matches played. Odds are we’ll finish the season in 3rd place.

It’s been an impressive run, especially considering the chopping and changing of line-ups we’ve had through the campaign. I don’t think we’ve had the same group of players two fixture dates in a row and I’ve often juggled line-ups around match-to-match and even set-to-set during any given triangular round of play. For example, yesterday I had our two squad setters each set one match and play OPP the other. The team is 14-2 in the league and has won 10 straight without dropping a single set. Since losing our last BUCS match of first term, we’re 11-0 overall in all competitions, with a 30 set win streak. Not a bad way to enter Final 8s from a confidence perspective.

My one concern is that we haven’t played any really challenging teams in quite a while now. Yes, they get at each other pretty well in training, which is a big reason they’ve had things relatively easy this term, but that’s not quite the same as facing tough external competition. Had we not got a bye in the Round of 16 it would be a different situation. As it stands, I’m pondering maybe getting some of the guys to come in to bolster the B team a bit for 6-v-6 action this week.

In terms of what came out of yesterday’s matches, there again was some very good serving. I have to give very serious thought to using the second team setter as a serving specialist at Final 8s. A couple of the hitters took the opportunity to work on a few things, which of course produced mixed results. Defense was generally solid, but passing could have been better. My plan for this week will be to have serve receive incorporated heavily into the games and drills.

Between matches yesterday I continued to give some thought to how I might be able to maximize the amount of talent – both mental and physical – we had on the court. I played around with line-up ideas and came up with one that could work. It’s definitely non-traditional, but I think it could be quite useful. The problem is one of the players motivating a look at the change hasn’t been playing quite up to the level I’ve seen her at for some reason. Makes me wonder if it’s worth giving this line-up a shot in training this week because I certainly don’t want to spring it on the team at Final 8s.

Building tournament expectations

BUCS announced the draw for volleyball Final 8s on Monday. Actually, they posted two different draws – first putting up one that was as expected, then a couple hours later changing to a surprising one.

Final 8s is played in pool fashion, with two groups of 4. The top two in each pool do a crossover set of semifinals as the progression toward the ultimate championship match. The 3rd place teams match up to decide 5th and 6th and the 4th place teams battle it out for 7th and 8th.

The initial Final 8s draw I saw looked very much like what I anticipated seeing. Teams from the same conference were separated and generally speaking the pools looked to have represented a pretty good split in terms of a reasonable seeding of the teams involved.

The new – apparently final – draw replaced the seed-based pools with ones based on a north/south split. That means no separation of conference foes. Since the Northern conference put 3 teams in Finals 8s in both the men’s and women’s field, it means they are practically playing a league round-robin to determine who advances to the semifinals. Why BUCS would do this I don’t know. It doesn’t make a lot of sense in terms of trying to identify the best university teams.

The one positive about these pools is that they likely are more competitive this way. My impression is that the Northern conference teams are the strongest, so having them together and the relatively weaker teams from the other conferences together in the other pool likely makes for tighter group-play matches in the pool stages. Also, these pools kind of represent next year’s premier league groupings.

On the men’s side, we have Bournemouth in our pool. They won our conference (we came second). We lost both matches against them, though there was some good battling. The other two teams in the group are from the South East conference – UEL who came first, and UCL who finished second. UEL is a scholarship program, and they were semifinalists in the Student Cup, so they’re likely to be pretty good. UCL finished 10th in the Student Cup, which was actually behind teams from our Conference who finished lower than we did, so that’s clearly a match we need to think of in terms of being winnable if we play to our abilities.

On the women’s side, we again have Bournemouth in our pool. We actually finished level with them in the conference table on points, but they took first on a tiebreak. We split our two matches this season. Cambridge and KCL are the other two teams. Cambridge finished 2nd in Midlands, though might have been first if they didn’t have an administrative points deduction. They also took 4th in the Student Cup, so they likely will be a solid team, which fits with what I saw of them in Final 8s last year. KCL went undefeated in South East, but beyond that I don’t know anything about them. They didn’t play in Student Cup this year.

Interestingly, the schedule as it currently stands sees both men and women playing Bournemouth in the final group-round fixture. The teams will be battling for position at that point, so those matches could be very interesting and very intense.

The question I will have to address from a coaching perspective with the two teams is how to manage expectations and playing time. The considerations are different for the men and the women.

In the case of the guys we have a situation where the team has a quite young core group we expect back next season. That makes it easier to share playing time around without having to be too focused on results. As I noted above, the teams we face in our pool will be part of the premier league we’ll play in next season and we could face a fourth one in the crossover match, so we get a nice initial view of what that’s going to be like. Having UCL in our group perhaps gives us a chance to go for a better finish than might have otherwise been the case.

On the women’s side the story is different. There are only a couple who will be back with the team next year. That puts a premium on trying to get the most out of this campaign. Also, whereas the guys may simply be physically over-matched in cases, I don’t see that being the case with the women. Could other teams be better? Certainly! But I think the women are likely to be very competitive, especially since they serve and defend quite well, which goes a long way in creating tight matches.

In both cases, though, how I think things will play out based on an honest assessment of where the teams are at and how things actually unfold could be quite different. I need to have contingency plans to deal with potential developments. This isn’t just in terms of line-ups. It’s also in terms of dealing with team and player psychology. It can be a real challenge managing a team (or player) that goes into an event like this with a certain expectation, then has to face the realization that isn’t going to happen. Motivation is a major issue when the goal a team was aiming for is no longer in reach.

Of course as a coach I have to make sure I’m clear with the team and players about expectations and the plan. Things can change on the fly, of course, but there tends to be less trouble with upset players when they know how things are probably going to go. It also helps in managing performance expectations and dealing with negative developments.

Sometimes you just do what you can

In a prior post I talked about the luck of the Exeter men’s team I coached getting a walk-over in the BUCS round of 16 match. That gave us easy passage on through to Final 8s. We had a bit of a reversal of fortunes shortly thereafter.

Both the men’s and women’s second teams played Conference Cup quarterfinal matches. The draw actually worked out such that the same university was the opposition, and the host, for both matches. For the guys we fielded a nearly full-strength team. We lacked a libero, which did hurt, but otherwise we had a full compliment. It was an ugly match – especially since the refs made no ball-handling calls at all. We had a bad start, but with a few on the fly adjustments we were able to claw back from 0-2 down to win. That saw the guys on to the semifinals two weeks later, where we hosted.

The tough luck came on the women’s side. Because of exams only two of our regular players were available. There was also a young lady who started training with us just the week prior. We had to bring in three players from the club’s Intermediates group. One of them did some fill-in duty the prior term for South West league play when we were thin. The other two were completely new to the group, though. They were literally asked to fill out the team the night before!

Needless to say, you don’t go into a match in a situation like that with very high expectations – particularly against a team that had been playing together all season long, on their home court, and after they had won their first round match 3-0. On top of that, we had no middles!

So what to do?

I ended up putting the two regular BUCS players and the one who started training with us last week in a triangle to balance out the skill and experience. I put our tall BUCS outside hitter opposite the setter and had them both operate out of the middle when front row. The OH played 6 when back row, but the setter played her normal 1 position. The rest of the players just filled in around the other two.

That’s about the best I could do having never seen half the team play before. Whether it was the system or the players or what, we ended up doing surprisingly well. I’d expected a quick 0-3, and I get the impression the ladies were kind of expecting that as well. Instead it was a tight affair throughout. I think we never scored less than 21 and we actually won the 3rd set! Under the circumstances, a 3-1 loss of that nature was practically a victory.

The guy who reffed (one of the men who played in the match against our guys) made me laugh. He complimented the team on being really well coached. Hah! 🙂

Coaching Log – Nov 16, 2013

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

Competed in the Volleyball England Student Cup in a 6-team pool. Hard going! We had to play 4 straight matches. The 10-minute break we got between the 3rd and 4th was hardly generous. The first two matches were teams we knew would present a major challenge. I was generally happy with how we played in terms of building the team’s confidence in attacking the other side with some confidence.

Since we didn’t have any real chance of advancing out of the group, I used the remaining matches to get players court time and do a couple of different things. We ended up splitting a pair of matches (just played 2 sets rather than best-of..) which could have and probably should have been swept.

I still feel like the team is under-performing. The energy is better (though that’s tough to support over 5 matches, especially when the competition goes down hill after the first two) and they are definitely starting to be more aggressive in attack. There remain some real limitations that may have to be addressed by personnel and/or position changes.

We have one training session before another league match on Wednesday.

Problem Solving: Three middle triangle

A while back I wrote about an experience from my early coaching days. I had to use one of my two middles as a setter. It worked very well, helping the team I coached win a gold medal. Less than a year later I had another situation which required a bit of fancy line-up footwork.

This time I was coaching a girls’ 16-and-under Juniors team. I had three players who could legitimately play middle at the team’s competitive level of play. I wanted (needed) all three players in there for their net play. A couple, though, weren’t all that keen on playing the position. Can’t say I blamed them as I always hated playing it myself. What I did was come up with a compromise that let me get them all on the court.

I forget at this stage which player I put where, but the basics of it were this. I put the three girls in a triangle in the line-up. One of them was the OPP. The other two were in the spots generally dubbed O1 and M1. In a 5-1 offense one usually puts their strongest OH and MB next to the setter. Those are the O1 and M1 respectively. I then put a couple of smaller OH type players in the two remaining spots either side of the OPP.

This line-up, of course, meant I had two of my quasi-MB players in the front row half the time and only one of them the other half. Obviously in the latter case that one girl played MB. In the other rotations, though, one would play MB and the other would play OH or RS, depending on whether the setter was up or back. Which one took the MB spot I often left to the players to decide, though sometimes I made the call if I saw something specific I wanted addressed.

The result was a pretty potent offense. It would have been a bit better with more experience in the setter position. It was sufficient for the team to finish 3rd in our regional championships.

The point is sometimes to get the most out of your team you have to do things in a non-standard fashion.