Tag Archive for offensive systems

Audible offense or setter play-calling

I received a question from a reader on the subject of offensive communication in volleyball. It’s a fairly complex subject which may actually require a string of posts to really fully explore. We can at least start on the subject here, though.

Here’s the email:

Hello Coach,

I really enjoy your blog! The recent post about team communication and gender differences got me thinking about an issue I have experienced with my team, and I was wondering if I could get your take on it, as someone who has coached high level women’s collegiate teams.

As a bit of background, last fall I got a job coaching an NCAA women’s DIII team after several seasons of coaching men’s collegiate club level teams. (I had coached girl’s junior club teams before, but this was my first experience coaching a women’s team at the collegiate level).

While I agree with your points about communication on defense and calling tips, rolls, etc, I was always taught that hitters should avoid calling for the ball whenever possible (4,5,1,2, hut, pipe, etc.) My coaches always emphasized the use of hand singles between hitter and setter, and having set plays in for certain situations in the match. Under this system the only time “calling the ball” is encouraged is for the MH when running 1s, 31s, and tandems, and even then the preferred method is for the MH to communicate discreetly with the setter before the start of the rally, whenever possible.

I had used this method of running an offense with my men’s teams, and it seemed to work well for them. I also emphasized that on long rallies when calling the ball may be necessary, that it should be mixed in with an equal amount of “decoy calls.” I.E. MH calls “31” and setter sets a shoot to the OH.

Fast forward to my women’s team last season, who had been taught by their previous coach that hits should always be called, and that the setter should not set players who are not calling for the ball. This lead to some differences between my players understanding of an offensive system and some of the systems I was trying to implement, and eventually I just decided go with the system used by their previous coach and require all hitters call the ball.

My question to you is, is it common for collegiate women’s teams to run a system in which every hit is “called.” Do you think that as players move to a higher level of play, hitters should move away from calling each hit and let the setter run her offense, or should calling each hit still be a requirement? From watching other teams play and scouting our opponent’s matches, there is significantly more calling of hits then on the men’s side, but I have also observed several women’s collegiate teams and girl’s club teams that don’t use this method.

Since my team will have a lot of new players this upcoming season, my goal is to focus on developing an offense in which our setters and hitters are comfortable enough working with each other that calling for the ball can be minimized, but I wanted to get your take on this specific aspect of communication.

Thanks,

T.M.

There are probably a couple of overlapping topics here. Let me reply from the perspective of whether you run an offense which is audible focused or play call focused.

Audible offense or play-calling?

In my experience, using audibles runs on a spectrum in women’s college volleyball – and no doubt elsewhere too. On the one end everything is called in advance by the setter and/or coach. On the other end is the situation where everything is based on audibles. In terms of teams on the extreme ends, you’ll likely find more that are play-calling focused than those which are entirely audible focused. In any case, the vast majority are in the middle somewhere.

What you’ll see most – and not just at the college level – is the setter calling the serve receive ball, then everything after is audible-based. Some teams have set play calls for free balls. Some have set plays for transition as well.

At the lower levels, hitters calling for the ball is about telling the setter who’s available in transition. It’s not really about scheme. This was a major part of why we did it with my team at Exeter, especially my first year. It was also about making sure players were ready to be hitters. As the levels progress there’s less need for that. The setters become more aware of what’s happening on the court around them.

The primary attacker approach

Even then, though, you do see many teams use audible systems intentionally. In his book Insights & Strategies for Winning Volleyball Mike Hebert describes a primary attacker system in which one hitter – often an MB – calls the set they want. The other hitters follow behind and off of that. For example, the MB calls a 31 and the OPP calls a 2. The idea is to get into the space vacated by the opposing MB.

I think a lot of teams run offenses based on this idea. They don’t implement it the way it was intended, though. This often happens in the dissemination of ideas. The result is a bunch of hitters yelling for the ball all that same time. This was something we had to work on when I coached at Svedala. Executing this sort of offense well requires some pretty high volleyball IQ in the team. Each hitter needs to be very aware of what’s going on on both sides of the net.

Hitters calling for what they want

Like I said, we don’t see this type of offense really run all that much as designed. Instead you get hitters all calling for the set they want to hit. Usually that’s without much regard to whether it makes sense from an offensive scheme perspective. It puts a considerable amount of responsibility on us as coaches. We must teach our hitters how to attack what the opposing team presents them with in block and defense.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. It gives us the opportunity to help players develop their volleyball IQ. Philosophically, this is something that works well for me. I can understand, though, that having a more fixed play calling system – which takes the decision-making out of the hitters’ hands – can be a more effective one when it comes down to trying to win.

Setter processing

A consideration here is that some setters simply can’t process the audio input as well as others. If you have one of them you probably need to go with a more fixed play system. Turning that around, sometimes your setter is the weak link in the play-calling chain. In that case, it might be better to let the hitters call their sets.

I think at the end of the day as a coach you need to adapt your offense to the players you have. My offense with the Exeter women was pretty basic because that’s where those players were at in their development. They needed to get good at doing the simple things as a first requirement. In contrast, my offense at Svedala was very dynamic because I had the setter and hitters who could do that. The attackers could hit several different sets and the setter could get the ball to them in multiple ways.

So it comes down to where you want to place primary responsibility.

Working on out-of-system play

A coaching friend of mine back in England asked me for some ideas on how to work on out-of-system play. What that really comes down to is the first ball element. How do you start the play or rally? He was working with a group of U15 boys, though the concept applies across all ages and genders.

Let’s start by defining what we mean by out-of-system. Broadly speaking, that usually means there are few, if any, attacking options available. Certainly, the quick attack is out. You might only have one hitter you can get the ball to for a real swing – often the OH in 4. For some, out-of-system more narrowly defines a player where the setter can’t take the second ball.

This is something you need to define for yourself – or at least have in mind when planning a game or drill. In the latter case you can just make it so that someone other than the setter takes the second ball. That’s easy enough to do. You can have no setter on the court or make it a rule that someone else takes the second ball.

In the former case you have two options. One is to make the setter play the first ball. The other is to make sure there isn’t a quick attack option available. This can be done by not having any MBs (so just two pin hitters at the net). You can also make sure the first ball won’t be passed/dug well very often, by doing a virus type of thing where the coach throws in a ball that must be played as the 2nd contact (see Increasing player initiation), or by simply putting in a rule that the sets must be high to the pins and/or back row.

An example of the “can’t set quick” approach is the High Ball to Receive game. In that case the first set must be a high ball to the OH, with the rally playing out from there.

Once you have sorted out the first part the out-of-system training equation – how to force them to not be in-system – you can then turn the focus on whatever specific area you feel is most in need of work. In a lot of cases that would be attacking against a big, well-formed block. It’s pretty easy to set that up by adding an extra blocker. You can alternatively have the defensive team working on triple blocking, narrow the attacking zone, or things like that.

Why no high level teams playing a 4-2 system?

It’s another trip to the (e)mail bag for this post. The coach of a boys’ junior varsity team has a question about running an international 4-2.

As a JV coach … I’ve found that the learning curve (especially for the boys) is so steep, that simplicity is often the best strategy. This is why I’ve moved to an international 4-2 system (with no back row switches). After 2 seasons of experimentation (with both the girls and the boys JV teams), I think I’ve stumbled onto something that really works.

Several refs and coaches have asked me about it. Most raise a scoffing eyebrow as if it were too simple. But the scoreboard doesn’t lie. Simple works. Defense (with no penetrating setter) works. And since JVs so often overpass, the front row setter jump-and-dump turns that negative into a positive almost every time.

I know we’re not supposed to make the players fit the system, but rather the other way around. However, there is virtually no combination of players that does not fit into my 4-2. Plus, my kids can run slides in six rotations, which is about the only jumping technique (i.e., the lay-up) that they come in knowing already, and which virtually no other JV team in our area ever sees coming at them.

Because we had so much success with it at the JV level, our girls varsity is probably going to run it next season.

Is there a question in all of this? Yes. Why don’t we see the 4-2 more often at higher levels? Is it really too simple? Has anyone ever won championships using the international 4-2? I mean, sure, there are only 2 hitters. But a 5-1 is a 4-2 half of the time. And in high school, unless you have a lefty who can hit, how many points does your opposite really account for? (Not much, in my experience). And at the higher levels, it isn’t difficult to find a reliable back row attack. Plus, the gains you get in having 3 solid defenders the entire time, without the setter having to worry about vacating right back too early is, well, hard to quantify. But I think they’re real. I think that’s why we usually win, even with kids who don’t come in with club experience and only so-so athleticism.

First of all, sometimes winding back the clock and making use of old systems and strategies is exactly what’s called for in a given situation.

Second, the 4-2 system (usually the international version) is very frequently employed in developmental situations. For example, I know from seminars that Volleyball England uses it at the national level. I think it is employed up to U15s (4-2 first, then moved to 6-2). They don’t go to a single setter system until U17s. I’ve heard of others who follow a similar pattern. The V.E. idea is to use the 2-setter system to develop a greater number of setters in the pipeline. That is definitely worth thinking about in a high school JV situation.

Why not at higher levels?

Now, the question is why you don’t see the 4-2 in use at higher levels of play.

As you move up the levels of play, you quickly reach the point where transitions from the back row are not a major issue. This is especially true in the men’s game where they can so easily cover the ground. Yes, you’d probably get better defense in Zone 1 if you always had a dedicated defender there. Certainly, that’s better than someone who tends to cheat and bail out regularly. It’s a trade-off, though.

I’d venture to say that most coaches would favor a single setter system if asked the question. The consistency of set location and tempo, of play-calling and decision-making, and of leadership on the court having just one setter are generally seen as superior to a 2-setter system. In the US women’s collegiate game you do see some teams using a substitution-based 6-2 (setters only play back row). They want to always have three hitters at the net and/or to have a bigger block. I think if you look at the numbers, though, most teams are 5-1.

And of course in both the men’s college game and in all international play (FIVB rules) you don’t have the subs to use that kind of approach. You’d have to have both setters also be hitters to be able to run a 6-2. And there just aren’t all that many players who are both good setters and good hitters.

Further, since good setters tend not to be as big as the hitters, having them in the front row all the time in a 4-2 system means always having a somewhat smaller block. It also means they probably aren’t as effective as hitters out of the back row as a more traditional Opposite. Of course there are always exceptions.

The right focus?

I think the bigger question in all this for me is why the focus on winning for a JV team?

Simple can be very good. It can also be detrimental. You put a bunch of 12s players on the court in a game and they quickly realize that the best way to win is to put the first ball over the net every time. That gives the other team the opportunity to make the mistakes. Very simple, but not really what we want them doing, right?

To my mind, the purpose of a JV squad is to prepare players to play in the varsity team. If we win, but do not serve the greater purpose, what’s the point? With that in mind, I would want to know how well an international 4-2 with no back row switching does that.

I’m not saying it doesn’t. Far from it!

I can see a number of developmental advantages to the system. That’s why the likes of Volleyball England and others use it at the national level. But by the time players are high school aged they run a 6-2 with setter/hitters. The 4-2 up through U14s prepares players to play a 6-2, which then prepares them to play 5-1 at what is effectively high school varsity age.

So, bottom line in all this is how well the 4-2 approach prepares players for whatever system or style of play is used at the varsity level. If it does the job well, great! If not, then a rethink is in order.

Coaching Log – Jan 4, 2016

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

Although we didn’t have anything official going on between December 17th and 26th, that didn’t stop the organizational stuff. The Sport Director and I exchanged a number of messages about planning for Gran Prix, player stuff, and thoughts on training scheduling moving forward. As top seed for Gran Prix, our semifinal is second at 12:30 rather than at 10:00, which is probably a plus. We get 45 minutes on the court from 8:45.

Sunday
The team had coaching (in the case of the Americans) and organizational duties at the big youth tournament the club ran (it’s an annual event). Long day for all of us, made even longer by the fact that the day began before the sun came up (circa 8am) and ended well after darkness set in (around 4pm). Along the way, I found out that I probably won’t be moving into a new place any time soon. That’s fine from the perspective of it being a decent place to live, but it is problematic from a transportation perspective. I’m 6k out of town and there isn’t any regular public transit service.

Monday
We had to training in a different gym due to our normal Monday one having something else booked. We had 11 for the session – our 8 core players (now that we’ve lost our 3rd OH – though she’ll be with us next week), the sister of our American setter, a former teammate of our American OH (who happens to also have played in Sweden before), and one of the other coaches in the club who has become a regular at training to help with our lack of numbers.

My intention was that this would mainly be a fun, shake off any rust, reconnect with each other session after 10 days off. The two young players on the team actually played in Sunday’s tournament as part of the club’s U21 team – winning that age group. One of the others also got in some training at her old club while she was home for Christmas. The rest (hopefully) at least got in their workout program.

I had them start with volley tennis for something fun and competitive. After doing a bit of pepper and serving to get warmed-up, we then shifted to Player Winners. We had one group of 5 and one group of 6 for that. After about 5 minutes I had the top 3 from the 6 player court swap with the bottom 2 from the 5 player court, and ran it again. The games were played side-by-side on the same court – each going half width, full depth.

From there we moved up to another Winners variation. This time the setters were fixed. Since we had three MBs, I had them do their own winners rotation (losing MB went out, the one waiting came in). that left the rest of the group in 3 teams of 2 as the main rotation. We played on a slightly narrow court (about a meter in on each side). I liked this as it mixed the players around a lot.

We finished with two games of 5 v 6.

Tuesday
I had a team meeting before training. After warning them of consequences being forthcoming should tardiness continue (there were late arrivals), we moved on to talking about our path forward. That started with a discussion of our match against Brøndby two weeks back. We talked about our struggles in terms of dealing with the bigger block and getting our block-defense more integrated and effective.

I talked about how we’d like to push our kill % up a little bit higher as we remain a little lower than our competitors (though our error % is on par). Part of that – and dealing with bigger blocks – involved working on getting the OHs going faster. We all generally agreed that our tempo there had slowed down a bit as the season progressed, making things predictable for the opposition. We also talked about moving the OHs in and out more to make them harder to anticipate.

Blocking remains a focal point moving forward. There was a lot of talk about needing better communication between blockers and defenders and making adjustments more quickly. I mentioned my continued focus on wanting our blockers to improve on reading hitter approach angles and getting positioned appropriately.

Serving was another topic of discussion. We have done well, with an ace-to-error ratio of about 1 to 1.2, which is generally considered good. We lead the league in aces per set. I talked about working on improving our ability to take better tactical advantage in situations where we can put the other team in maximum pressure.

The other area of discussion was serve reception. Once again, the fact that we sideout very well (near 60%) despite not passing all that great came up. Statistically, we rank #6 in the league in that category (for that those numbers are worth). I told the team that we’re doing a good job communicating and making adjustments. We now need to work to improve on the technical side of things.

We had 10 for training. After prehap, I had them split into two groups. Setters and MBs in one, and the rest in the other. They did 1 v 1 2-touch pepper to warm-up. I then had the setters and middles working on block to transition attack on one court. The others I had do what was basically a 6-person pepper over the net (3 per side). The focus, though, was on the passing/digging side of things. They had a target of 50 perfect. Once they completed that, I had them do some proper serve receive, with the passer hitting a back row set so they were passing with hitting in mind.

After that, I brought the group together for some target serving. I had them working on serving 1 to 5 and 5 to 1.

The rest of training was working on transition play, 6 v 4. The 4 received a free ball to start each play. If there wasn’t a rally from there, I attacked a ball at the 6 so they could play one out. Only the initial ball counted toward the score, which we started 18-20 in favor of the 4. We went through all the rotations, and repeated rotation 4 twice more because we struggled there. I believe the 4 side won each game – or at least almost all of them – which is not overly surprising given the advantage of starting with a free ball. Doing it again I think I’ll start with a different score.

Wednesday
Believe it or not, we has 12 players for this session. The funny part is that 4 of them were middles and we only had 3 outsides. My main focus priorities for the session was working on the tempo for the outsides and blocking with the MB and RS players.

As generally is the case, the team had weight training before the session. We did partner over-the-net pepper (3-touch) for a couple minutes, then I shifted that to a 2 v 2 competitive 2-touch game (half court), which I rotated a couple of times.

From there I split things out. One of the setters and the OHs, plus the libero, went off on one court to work on speeding up the tempo of the outside sets. Basically, they did a pass-to-hit drill. The other setter and the rest of the players when on the other court to work on blocking. I wanted to focus particularly on blocking against the outside attack at the pin and on inside balls.

I’m not a huge fan of doing blocking work with hitters on boxes, but that’s what I decided to do in this case, largely because of what would be coming next. I had one of the box hitters at the pin and the other a bit inside. I stood behind the blockers (MB and right), and signaled the hitters which one to hit. We had the video delay set up so the blockers could look at themselves on the big screen. About halfway through, I had the setters switch.

I then brought the group back together. We did a kind of 5 v 6 game. On one side where the two OHs, the libero, a setter, and an RS attacker. The other side had six on the court, plus a server. Basically, the idea was to take advantage of having the extra size with the spare MBs (plus a male OH) to have the pin hitters working against the bigger blocks. The game started with the serve from the 6-person side and they played out the rally. The 5 continued to work on the set tempo and I instructed the setter to focus on getting more sets to the RS attacker, particularly in the back row, which is something that I’ve wanted to see more of to extend our width. On the 6 side the MBs and server rotated around each five balls.

From there we went into Bingo-Bango-Bongo to work on transition offensive in an effort to improve on the point scoring side of things. We did all 6 rotations (4-1-5-2-6-3). We actually had to move on from 2 because it was taking too long, so we circled back to it at the end. Still couldn’t finish it, but it was time to wrap things up. The players were clearly fatigued, which wasn’t surprising given the lifting they’d done beforehand.

Thursday
This was a morning session after a tough night one on Wednesday, so I kept it fairly low intensity. I even lightened up on the jumping aspect of the pre-hab exercises. I had them do some target serving at the beginning, then shifted in to pass and serve. A couple of the players did take a few swings during the process. From there we did some digging from hitters on boxes (line ball, cross ball). The last part was back row Winners 3.

Friday
No training this day. We originally had a session scheduled, and nothing on Thursday, per our normal schedule. Our Sports Director moved things around to give everyone a chance to enjoy their New Years.

Saturday
We did a “player’s choice” session. One of the players had to work and another was having a bit of a knee niggle, so was refraining from jumping. That left us with 6 fully involved as unfortunately we didn’t have any guest players. After we did pre-hab, I gave the players a chance to decide what they wanted to do. Not surprisingly, they opted for serve & pass to start things off. After doing that for a while, they played a couple of back row games with fixed setters. The second string setter set for one side and one of the middles set the other side. The last part of the session was spent playing Winners 2s.

Thoughts, observations, and other stuff
While Wednesday’s session was at a really good intensity, and the first half of the week was generally decent, the lower intensity of the second half of the week (per force) was less than optimal. That means we’ll need to really get the competitive focus back up right away to start the new week’s training. We just have two sessions with the match on Wednesday and then the Gran Prix over the weekend, which we depart for on Friday.

Coaching Log – Nov 2, 2015

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

There was only one other match besides our last week, with Örebro beating RIG. No surprise there. That pushed them to the top of the Eliteserie table on 8 points to our 7. They’ve played 4 matches, though, to our 3. There were no other Oresundliga matches, so Engelholm’s win over us sees them to of the table there on 7 points from 3 matches. Everyone else only has 2 matches, aside from Gislaved (our opponent this week) who is 0-3 thus far.

I spent a lot of time in the latter part of the prior week working on getting hold of and analyzing the video from our match. Technology issues really slowed things down. I basically ended up manually going through every attack for both teams and coding the rotation, the pass/dig, the type of set, the type of attack, and the outcome. I really wanted to take a look at our set distribution and effectiveness.

Two things really jumped out. First, the disparity between when we pass well and when we don’t. Obvious, you expect to be more effective with better passes. When we passed or dug a 3 (see the rating system) we had a 55% kill rate with only 7% errors or blocked. When our pass/dig was a 2 we had a 45% kills rate with only 5% errors/blocks. When we passed/dug a 1 our kills were only 8% and the error/block rate was 20%. I’d like to see us push the 3s up maybe 10 points and get the 2s up to 50%. As for the 3s, I think we need to flip the percentages around, more or less.

The other thing that jumped out was how few middle quicks we ran – just 7 total. Part of that was a match-up thing for that match as we ran more slides, but even still those numbers need to be much higher. I also wasn’t happy with our overall numbers for right side attacks.

Monday
We had a pair of guest players in training. They both play at RIG, but were on a school break. One of them is from Svedala and has played in various teams with the Swedish players. The other is from Ystad, which is the home town of one our players, so again known to most of the groups. That gave us an even 12.

Ball-handling was a major focus for this session. After warm-ups we did Continuous Cross-Court Digging. I instructed the hitters to pick up the power of the attacks to increase the challenge. From there we shifted to some serving and passing. I began with the setters and middles (4 players) serving to everyone else on two sides – so 3 passers and a target, with a passer rotating to target after two good passes.

To continue working on middle quicks I then shifted the setters and MBs to the net. I left two passers in on each side covering half the court, with the other two players serving. Again, a passer rotated out to go serve after two good passes. At the tail end I added in a pipe attack.

I then shifted that into Speedball Winners with fixed setters and MBs. This time the setters were back row to work on the timing with their transitions. We finished with Bingo-Bango-Bongo. I mainly did that to work on Rotation 1 when we’re in transition after reception (so the OH in 2 and OPP in 4), but we did all the rotations.

Tuesday
I met with the team for about 15 minutes before training to talk about my analysis of the video from our last match. We talked about looking to get kills more out of our good passes and digs (mainly about speeding up the offense) and in better dealing with things when we’re out of system. In the case of the latter the focus was on bettering the ball and getting our back row attackers more active. We also talked a bit about improving our block/defense, in particular with regards to how the defenders in 6 play.

Just one of the RIG players in training this session, plus our part-time MB. After warm-ups and pre-hab exercises I had the player do some partner 2-touch pepper over the net to warm-up their shoulders. That was followed by a variation of passing triplets. In this case, to work on proper platform angles I had them dig/pass down balls coming at them down the line (1 to 5, 5 to 1) to properly redirect them toward target in Zone 2.5.

My American OH had an idea of a drill to do to work on block positioning and penetration, so I let her run that next. Basically, it was liberos hitting from boxes at the pins (they tried from the ground, but they were having to hit upwards too much) against a 3-person block with the MB closing to double and the off blocking moving into defense. The blockers got a point for a stuff block or a touch that could be played by one of the 3 involved. They went until they got 50 points.

From there I broke the group in half to work on offense. The OHs and Liberos were on one court with one setter. I had one of each serving, with the other two OHs and the other Libero in serve reception working on faster sets. The OHs rotated on 5 good kills and at the same time the Liberos swapped.

On the other court I had the MBs and OPPs with the other setter. They worked on middle and right side attacks with the OPPs passing coach-tossed balls. There were 3 MBs, so one was the attacker for 5 good balls, while one was the opposing middle and the other the opposing OH for blocking purposes. After the OHs on the other court each got 1 round of 5 good sets, I had the setters switch courts. The MB/OPP group came up with some interesting play options that are worth developing further.

We finished up with 22 v 22 to get both serve receive and transition work in. The games were quite competitive, so we only got through rotations 1, 4, and 6. I had the MBs rotate so one of them was playing defense each round on the team with only one OH.

Wednesday
This was a very technically oriented session with just the core group. After warming up I had them do some positional digging in groups. Basically, on a rotating basis each player dug a ball from 2 and one from 4 (hitters on boxes), with a group target of net good digs (-1 for overpasses). We went through positions 5, 1, and 6. Then we did combined digging of cross-court balls for defenders in 1 and 2 and 5 and 6 to work on seams and tips.

I then split the team to have the setters and MBs working on the timing of 1s. The others did serving and passing. Two players passed half the court. There was a target and the other three players serving. The passing pair needed to get to +20. They got 2 points for a 3 pass, 1 point for a 2 pass, -1 for an ace or overpass.

The last exercise was a 5 v 5 game. One side had an OH, a Setter, a Libero and both MBs. The Setter was back row, leaving one MB to block in 2. The other side had one OH and a RS hitter front row, with a Setter, Libero, and OH back row. I coach served every ball to the no-MB side. The focus was on faster balls to the pin hitters, plus pipes. The receiving team got a point if they got a kill or caused the defensive team to dig 1 ball, otherwise the defensive team got the point. They played out the rallies, but I scored only based on the first attack. We played 3 games to 10 to rotate the OHs through, also moving the setters and liberos around.

The players said they liked the training – all the technical work. Honestly, though, a big part of its motivation was that they worked really hard the night before and had weight training immediately prior to practice this night. If we’d pushed things with another high intensity game-play session they probably wouldn’t have lasted very long – at least at the level of focus and effort I’d want to see.

Thursday
Our Saturday opposition (Gislaved) played a match on Tuesday night. After getting it downloaded, I created a trimmed version (no timeouts, no between set breaks, etc.) and then focused on just the 2nd set when Gislaved was nearest the camera. I made some notations in the video, then posted it up for the players to watch (with a link to see the full one if they wanted).

This time I went back to focusing on how we can attack their block/defense. For the last match I isolated the swings of their major attackers, but this time around I wanted to focus on what we’re doing. Basically, a return to the approach I was taking before.

Friday
No no returning guest players, meaning only had 9 in training (see Other stuff for the reason it wasn’t 10). After warm-up and pre-hab and some ball-handling I had the players do back court winners 3s to work on both back row attacking and defending against it as we’d likely see plenty of it on Saturday. I then ran a servers vs passers game with the OHs and RS going against the Setters, MBs, and Libero.

Basically, the rest of the session was spent running through the rotations in a 5 v 4 fashion. On the 4 side I had the Setter front row along with a MB and OH, and an OH in 6. On the 5 side the Setter was back row with the Libero and 3 front row attackers. The OH on the 4 side served to start each sequence. After that rally ended, I gave the 4 side a free ball. Rallies were played out where possible, but the scoring was based based on the first attack (kill or + attack = point for the receiving team, otherwise point for the defending side, except for a covered block which was no point for either side). We played games to 10, flipping the Setter and RS player on the 5 side, and switching the back row OH from the 4 side with the OH from the 5 side. The teams were set so they matched rotation personnel.

The offense run during that last phase was quite aggressive as we started working the OHs in some different faster sets.

Saturday
Match Day started with team photos at 10:00. We did them once in September for league website purposes, but this was actually the official shooting with all the right numbers, etc. That was followed by our hour of serve & pass at 11:00, then team lunch following. The match was at 15:00, with Gislaved in town for the first of our 4 matches against them this regular season. You may recall they were the first team we played in pre-season.

As seems to be the case so often, we really got on top of the other team early in the match. Our serving pressure really put Gislaved off their game – even forcing their best hitter to be subbed out in both sets 1 and 2 – resulting in 25-15 and 25-20 scorelines. Set 3 was one of those weird ones that happens at times. They got on top of us early and we never could claw back. It ended up 15-25. The fourth set was pretty tight, with some back and forth momentum swings. We were able to pull it out 25-22 in the end, though.

The funny thing is our passing was markedly better in sets 3 and 4 than in the first two. We sided out better in the weaker passing sets than in the better ones, though. We struggled with block positioning when we played this team the first time and did so again once more. Yes, we got 9 blocks, but that’s actually a bit below our average.

Thoughts and observations
Overall the energy and intensity level was good. We did some interesting new things on offense in terms of diversifying the attack and going faster. I still think our defense could be much better in certain respects, though being better in the block is part of that.

Other stuff
One of my liberos spoke with me before training on Tuesday. She’s going to be starting a new job in the not-too-distant future. The result is that she probably won’t be staying with the team. In fact, on Friday at about midday she let the team know via the Facebook group that she wouldn’t be training that night or attending Saturday’s match. Surprise! That sees us down to 9 for the core squad, which is tough. I need to look at options for getting more alternative bodies involved.

Coaching Log – Sep 14, 2015

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

Here’s how things went over the second week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who takes the second ball on a setter dig?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample volleyball team playing guide

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

The guide goes over a few primary areas of focus:

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

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

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

Hitter coverage strategy

I had a reader email ask whether I had any hitter coverage diagrams for both the 5-1 and 6-2 offensive systems.

My personal philosophy on hitter coverage is that the three players closest to the attacker should be the ones doing the close coverage. The two players furthest away have deep cover. Normally, for a set to the left front attacker hitting in Position 4, that is going to look like the diagrams below. The one on the left is for when the setter is front row. The one on the right is for when the setter is back row. Really, though, they are both pretty much the same.

Coverage4

The above assumes the middle hitter is running a 1st tempo (quick) in front of the setter. Since the middle is already at the net, the setter moves off the net to fill the area between them. The left back then comes in to cover behind the OH. If the middle is running a slower tempo (i.e. a 2 ball), then the setter goes along the net and the middle and setter coverages are reversed. In both cases, the middle back player and the remaining right side player would split the rest of the court between them in deep positions.

The trick comes when the middle runs something behind the setter – especially the slide. In that case, they are likely to be one of the furthest away from the attacker. That means someone else needs to move in to provide close coverage. The right back player is an option, depending on how close they are to the net.

The diagrams below show the ideal coverages for middle and right side attack. In the former case, it’s quite a bit like defense for a middle attack. In the latter case, it looks like a mirror of what is shown above for an attack through Position 4. There’s one catch, though. Because the setter has vacated right back, the middle back player has to get over to provide the third person in close coverage.

Coverage2-3

All of the above is ideal scenario. Realistically, though, unless you’re playing a relatively slow offense (lots of high sets) you probably won’t see exactly these sorts of configurations happening very often. That’s why I said at the beginning the general idea is for the three players closest to the attack – whoever they may be – to find a good position near the hitter and handle the tight cover, leaving the other two for the deeper areas of the court.

The place where this tends to break down most frequently is with whichever attacker ends up in Zone 2. That could be it the right front player or the middle running the side. For whatever reason, they often get lazy about getting into the coverage.

Another tricky situation is on the middle slide. The setter is, as usual, going to turn and follow their set. The right back comes up to cover close behind. That leaves the left front, left back, and middle back players. One of them needs to try to take the short, with the other two staying deep. If there’s a libero on the court, they will likely be the choice. If you run a pipe attack it factors in to things as well, though.

As for back row attacks, generally speaking I like the front row player closest to where the ball will cross the net to be directly under the block. This is especially true at lower levels where the attack power isn’t that great.