Tag Archive for player psychology

Book Review: The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallway

It took me several months, but I eventually finished reading The Inner Game of Tennis  by W. Timothy Gallway. The women’s soccer coach at Midwestern State loaned it to me. He uses it quite a bit with his team. The reason I took so long was that I read it in small doses rather than sitting down for long reads. I probably should have just read it in one go. After all, it’s a short book (134 pages).

The fact that I had not read the book already was a source of shock and sadness to one of my coaching friends. I suggest you not make the same mistake. It was recommended during my CAP III course.

I personally think the measure of any good non-fiction book is how much it makes you think. By that standard, Inner Game is a great offering. Yes, it’s a book focused on tennis. And yes, that does mean at times the discussion is not overly useful for volleyball coaches. Broadly speaking, though, the concepts and ideas translate easily from sport to sport.

Inner Game was written primarily for players, but is easily translatable to coaching. It talks a lot about player thought processes. In particular, a big focus is on getting the conscious mind out of the way. Doing so allows the parts of us where performance and learning actually take place to do their thing. A big part of this is removing judgement from the equation.

We all have players who think too much about their technique. It is usually to the detriment of their performance. The problem is we coaches exacerbate things at times. This is the result of how we provide feedback and technical instruction. I definitely thought of the concepts of internal vs. external feedback while reading the book.

There are some good sections on focus and concentration in the book. I also really like the discussion of competition. If you struggle to express its merits to your athletes, I definitely recommend that section.

Here’s the bottom line. If you haven’t already, read The Inner Game of Tennis. It will stimulate all kinds of thoughts about your coaching methods. That’s a good thing!

Addressing player effort and quality differences

An email came in from a coach working with a group of players. It deals with the question of how to handle a situation where effort and playing caliber don’t match.

I have two young and two older experienced hitters. The older players don’t give their all. They do what they must, but without the involvement. When we have a match, they play very well, with very good effect, and they can win a point under pressure.

The young players don’t understand why they are a reserve players if they play the as well as the older ones in training (a lot of times better). Unfortunately, in matches the young players make more mistakes and don’t have stable form (sometimes they can play amazing volleyball, but sometimes they can do simple mistakes). They were the most important players in the youth club and they don’t understand that in the senior league it is different.

Have you ever had similar problem in your career? What would you do, if you were me?

I’ll summarize the situation this way. We have two experienced players who go through the motions in practice, but are clearly the best come match time. We then have two young players who work very hard in practice, but are not yet consistent performers in matches.

To my mind there is a question of priorities here. The reference at the end about “senior league” makes me think competition is the priority for this particular team. That means putting the best team on the court for each match is what it’s about.

To my mind there are two ways to try to handle this sort of situation.

The younger players

The first thing we have to do is to make sure the younger players who aren’t playing understand the team’s priority – winning. They further need to understand why the more experienced players are the starters – fewer errors, more consistent performance, etc. The younger players may not like the situation, but at least they will understand the logic.

Explaining things is not enough, though. You also need to provide those players with a path toward increased playing time. Where do they need to improve to push the experienced players? What do they need to do to make those improvements? Give them hope and steps they can take to move toward their goal.

The experienced players

It obviously isn’t any fun when some of those best players realize they will start no matter what and don’t bother to give full effort in training. The challenge is to find ways to motivate them to change that behavior. What is it they can target as a reason to push themselves in training?

Ideally, their motivation is simply to make the team the best it possibly can be. If the players are motivated by the collective good, then the coach’s job is to show them how better training by those players will help achieve that goal.

Unfortunately, some players have more selfish motivates. Maybe they want to earn some honors or recognition. Maybe they want a better contract or to move to a bigger club. You have to find out where their motivation is and try to appeal to that.

Short-term/long-term

Linked in with all of this is the time frame you are working in. Are you just concerned with this season? If so, then you are probably going to have keep picking the more experienced players for the starting lineup. If, however, you have the ability to think longer term, maybe you can find some opportunities to bench the experienced players from time to time. That would give the younger players valuable experience and show the experienced ones there are others looking to take their positions.

Those are some thoughts I had on the situation. I’d love to hear what others have done in a similar circumstance, or would do. Leave comment below and share your thoughts and/or experience.

Wait. I don’t remember it like that

One of the disadvantages of having a former player in the broadcast business is that sometimes you get thrown under the bus – intentionally or otherwise. The American setter I had at Svedala, Camryn Irwin, is in that arena now. She also sometimes features as a guest on The Net Live. She did the intro and outro audio for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards podcast as a favor to me back when we started it.

A player’s recollection

One such episode was December 12, 2016. About an hour in, a discussion of block vs. game-like training developed. There were interesting perspectives shared by a combination of men’s and women’s players and coaches. Along the way, Cam cast me in a negative light.

She didn’t actually say, “John Forman … “. Instead, it was more “my coach in Sweden …”. I doubt most people who listen to the show have any idea that’s me. They would have to find out where Cam played in Sweden and then probably dig around to learn that I was the coach for that team. I’m guessing most American volleyball people won’t do that work.

But back to what she said. The conversation got into the subject of playing a lot in practice. I’m not going discuss the skill acquisition value of block vs. random and all that here, because that wasn’t Cam’s focus. If you want to get into it, you can start with this post. Cam talked instead about practice intensity and the potential impact on player fatigue.

Basically, what she said was at Svedala I just wanted to play all the time in training and the players felt like they needed more “drill” time to bring down the physical demands. She talked about meeting with the coach (me) to discuss it. The way she talked about it on the show was to say “We can’t just play for an hour and a half.” The implication was that they would physically break down.

Let’s put the question of whether 90 minutes of game play in practice is too high an intensity to the side for now. Maybe that’s a question for another article.

Instead I want to look at Cam’s recollection of things and compare it to my own.

A coach’s recollection

First, I remember the “We want more drills” request mainly from a skill acquisition perspective (in part a motivation for this post). It was less about training intensity.

Second, we never just played. Well, maybe the very first session. Check out my log entries for that season to see. Yes, we played a lot – especially small-sided games. I almost never had the bodies for 6 v 6. Those rare days we could play 6 v 6 (guest players) we did use the bulk of the session to do so because it would have been foolish not to. And the players were always very excited to do so. Every practice, though, included non-game activities. There was target serving, passing, various peppers, and defense drills mixed in at different points.

Third, even when we did do game play I tried to move players around to keep their workload balanced. For example, I wanted the six-rotation players equal back row and front row work.

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, I was generous with time off. We started with 10 players, and quickly dropped to 9. That means only two back-ups to the first team – a setter and an OH. Knowing the starters would have a heavy load, I always looked for opportunities to give the team breaks. We didn’t usually train on Thursday, so if we didn’t play on the weekend I sometimes (maybe always in-season) gave them Friday off for an extra long weekend. I know I also gave them off at least one Monday after we played on Saturday. Plus, they got 10 days completely off over the holidays. This is all on top of going lighter the days after matches and cutting things off if they looked tired.

So from my perspective I tried to not physically overwork them.

Reconciling the two perspectives

It is worth sharing something Cam related to the team at one point during the season. She often talked with players from other teams after matches as there were several Americans in the league. One of them was apparently in awe of the types of plays our team made during games – plays no one else made. Cam attributed that, at the time, to us playing a lot in training. So clearly there was a recognition on her end of the value of making practice game-like.

So why the difference in recollection?

Maybe in the moment during the TNL discussion Cam didn’t have a chance to really think back on the season. Or maybe the time off didn’t really register as you might expect.This sort of thing can happen to players. For example, a player can complete a practice and think they should have passed more balls, forgetting that they passed a bunch of them in the games or in drills that were not “passing” drills. It’s a question of the perspective on the activity (or lack thereof). We coaches are subject to this as well.

Maybe because of other stuff going on for her (like coaching the club’s youth players) Cam had a different perspective on time off than mine. She also had to deal with a back injury, which forced some additional work on her part. Perhaps that factors in to her recollections as well.

For what it’s worth, my player-coach relationship with Camryn was a positive one. I don’t think she holds any ill will toward me. She was just a player with a player’s perspective and I was a coach with a coach’s perspective. I don’t take her comments from TNL personally, even if at the time there was a bit of an “Ouch!” response. 🙂

Were the players overworked?

The team definitely struggled at times during the first weeks of the second half of the season. By that point we only had 8 players, the only back-up being a setter. I was already paring back training time. I can remember talking with the team about how we’d look to do that, but how we’d still need to keep the intensity up as much as possible in that shorter time. They needed to keep challenging each other to continue progressing.

At the same time their weight training regime had recycled. Might the combination of the two been too much? Conversely, did I given them too much time off over the holidays? These are among the things I’ve thought about as potentially contributing to a couple of poor January performances. Unfortunately, I was let go at the start of February (season runs through April), so I have no way to know how the physical side of things might played out long-term.

The lesson

Players are individuals with their own inherent biases and perspectives. It’s inevitable that they see and remember things differently than you do as a coach. Many a coach has been surprised/embarrassed/mortified at the things players remember. It comes with the territory. We want to do our best to not teach what we don’t want learned, but we have a very different view point from our players. Accept it. Try to understand their perspective. Do your best to learn when you come across an example of divergent recollection.

Giving players more responsibility

Here’s something to think about.

There’s a lot of talk about the level of privilege among modern athletes. Anyone who came up as a player 20 years ago must think current players are seriously spoiled. As one of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards I interviewed said, the older players were happy just to get a new pair of shoes each year.

Obviously, the degree to which players nowadays are spoiled or not, pampered to or not, depends a great deal on the level of play and the resources of the organization for which they compete (or the amount their parents are willing the spend). The team I coached at Svedala, for example, got the basics. The club did not provide the players nearly the gear and support in the form of trainers, etc. as most college players in the US get these days. This is despite being a professional team.

But I’m not here to talk about that stuff. I want to instead discuss the degree to which players are invested in their teams and the programs that surround them.

I recently thought about the structure of university level volleyball in the U.K. That is an entirely club-based system. By that I mean teams are not varsity in the way those of us in the U.S. think about it with the school running this. Instead, they are clubs which are run by the students involved. They are much like club sports at colleges and universities in the States. Yes, there are varying degrees of involvement and oversight from school to school. Overall, though, the club membership is responsible for the direction the program takes and much of the day-to-day administration.

The result of all this is that club members are – to my mind – more invested in how the program does. This is both in terms of performance on-court and what they do outside the gym (club growth, community service, etc.). This leads me to wonder ….

Would athletes in other structures be more invested if they were more involved in the off-court parts of their programs?

I’m thinking primarily here of school programs (college/university or even high school), but the same idea could potentially be addressed in a more professional club context. We sometimes talk about the need to have players feel like they are part of the process of determining how they train and/or play. This would simply take that same idea and apply it to the more administrative side of things.

Obviously, there are things which will have to be done by the coaching staff for one reason or another. For example, NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes from recruiting. There are plenty of things they can help out with, though. Making travel arrangements. Doing scheduling. Setting up community service activities. The list goes on.

As an added bonus, if we players help out with that kind of stuff we can have less administrative staff. That means lower costs. 😉

Also, the admin experience wouldn’t hurt in terms of the athletes developing useful job market skills.

Just something to think about. Feel free to tear the idea to shreds in the comment section below. 🙂

What is true competitiveness?

Mark at the At Home on the Court blog penned the Is Kobe really competitive? post. In it he presents us with a question. Is an overarching desire to win sufficient to be considered truly competitive. That may sound a bit strange, so let me explain.

It comes down to a player’s committed to winning. Will they they do anything required to do so? And by anything required I mean perhaps sacrificing their own personal desires for the greater good. We would probably call these types of people real team players, but do we consider them real competitors?

To quote Mark;

“…I would argue that I have actually met very, very few people who are actually competitive, people who would really do anything to win.  If you are prepared to do anything to win, you will work with others and you won’t take credit. “

We talked about this sort of idea in the MSU Volleyball office one day. It wasn’t so much in terms of competitiveness, but more broadly in the context of pursuit of team goals.

For a team to reach its objectives everyone needs to be on board with them. Everyone also needs to prioritize those objectives. Necessarily, prioritizing the team ahead of the self means you probably have to make sacrifices along the way.

Now, when we talk about sacrifices in this context we often speak of players not getting the playing time they want or having to play a different position or role in the team than they’d prefer. Let me provide you with a different example.

During the 2013-14 season the University of Exeter women I coached were on a mission. They wanted to reach Final 8s, played in Edinburgh that year. Everyone was totally committed and we ended up reaching that objective (and more).

A few weeks after the season the team came together to do a few training sessions ahead of playing in a regional tournament together. After one of them I was walking and talking with the team’s captain. One of the players on the team was someone who commonly expressed strong opinions that could rub people the wrong way at times. The captain told me during that walk that she had been reminded of this particular “quirk” that evening. She said it was something she had forgotten about during the season because the focus was on the team an its objectives.

In other words, the captain had sacrificed her own desires to disagree, argue, or otherwise be made upset or feeling in conflict with this other player. Being a cohesive team was more important to her than any interpersonal issue. In fact, it was so much of a higher priority that the lack of response at potential conflict points, or simply avoiding them, had become unconscious.

Was my captain a special player? To be sure! She was captain for a reason. That’s not to say, though, that other players in the team weren’t making similar types of sacrifices to help maintain team harmony. I’m sure all of them were on some level or another.

The point is that group of players put the team’s mission ahead of any personal agenda of their own. This is what we look for, is it not? When expressed in terms of the objective of winning, then to Mark’s point, this is the ultimate expression of competitiveness.

The value of personality testing with your team

As I mentioned in my recent coaching log post, last week the team did a session with a sports psychology specialist who took them through a basic DISC personality type analysis (Myers-Briggs is another popular one). This is part of a semester-long process of working with the team to improve chemistry and cohesion in the squad.

As is often the case, the findings of the tests were interesting. The gentleman who lead the session did a good job of not just providing information about what the different basic personality types represent, but also what they mean in terms of developing effective lines of communication across groups.

Obviously, this sort of testing isn’t meant to provide a detailed analysis of each player (and coach, in this case). And simply thinking in terms of individuals by their primary group would be a mistake. There’s a lot of overlap and nuance. Still, to my mind it’s a worthwhile exercise to streamline the process of figuring out the best ways to reach a given player and for players to communicate with each other.

Once isn’t enough
That said, just doing the test once and thinking that’s all you need to do is not really sufficient if you really want to follow this path.

Obviously, if you’re a club coach or otherwise in a situation where you’re basically starting a new team each season, then you’d have to do a new analysis every time. If you’re coaching a school or professional team then you need to account for the fact that you have players (and coaches) regularly flowing in and out of the team. That means new testing requirements and constantly changing team composition.

On top of that, just doing the testing and having the conversation one time is almost assuredly not enough for the lessons to stick. They need to be reinforced on a regular basis over time, in some fashion or another. That might be something the coaching staff can handle, or it might require having an outside expert making regular appearances.

Cost – Benefit
And of course there is usually some kind of cost involved.

At a minimum, there is a time requirement. This is something which needs to be considered, especially where something like NCAA weekly hour limitations are involved.

If you bring in someone from outside, there’s probably a financial cost involved. That means making a decision on the prospective gains to be had from the personality testing, or any other type of psychology work. Is it worth the investment? For some the answer will be, “Yes.” For others, either because of other priorities or because of limit funds, it’s a different story.

I think it is very worth us coaches understanding these sports psychology principles. We may not use them explicitly at any given point in time, but it’s always good to know what tools are available to us to accomplish what needs doing when the priorities line up and the resources are available.

Dealing with perfectionist players

I came across an article which speaks to the issue of student perfectionism. In it the author focuses on students who are not satisfied with anything but being perfect. Does this sound like any volleyball players you know? I certainly have had my fair share!

Anything less than perfect is failure

You’ve seen it, right? A player gets frustrated and angry with themselves because they don’t play the ball perfectly. That just leads to further “failures”, which feeds back, creating a downward spiral. And chances are, many of the reps they aren’t happy with are ones we’d call good. It’s tough to watch and can be a real challenge to deal with.

There’s an interesting quote in the piece: “This tendency to be satisfied with nothing short of perfection is akin to the fear of failure…”

This brought to mind the fixed vs. growth mindset discussion, as outlined in Mindset by Carol Dweck. If you haven’t read that book, I strongly recommend it. In many cases, the fixed mindset is driven by a fear of failure. That can lead to either perfectionism or to not being willing to try new things or otherwise challenge one’s self.

Changing the mindset

The focus of the article is on trying to get students (athletes in our case) to change their focus away from be perfect and toward more useful mindsets. The author suggests four “swaps” that can/should be attempted. This is something Hugh McCutcheon has talked about. Here are the four mental adjustments suggested in the article:

Can you swap out progress for perfectionism?
This is a healthy trade off. What if our report card was continual improvement, not perfection? It’s a game that’s challenging but winnable. Ask them: Are you OK with who you are, but becoming the best version of you?

Can you swap out excellence for perfectionism?
Excellence is a fantastic goal, because we all can excel in some area of strength. Help students find and focus on their gift, and remind them: You can get fired from a job, but you cannot get fired from your gift. Find your gift and you’ll always have work.

Can you swap out comparison to others for comparison to you?
If we must play the comparison game, it’s safer to compare your performance today to one of your former performances rather than someone else’s. This way growth, not perfection, becomes a win. Striving for growth resolves the performance trap.

Can you swap out conquering others to adding value to others?
If life has become about competing with and conquering other people, why not shift your perception of others. What if your “report card” was about adding value to people, not being better than other people? Suddenly, we can all make straight A’s.

Admittedly, that last one might be a bit tricky for us. In fact, it might run counter to some of the work we’re trying to do to make our players and teams more competitive. 🙂

Creating a forward focus

For my own part, in training I try to short-circuit the perfectionist spiral by not giving the players an opportunity to fixate on that last rep. The time you tend to see that kind of feedback loop is when a player is doing successive reps. Think one player passing or digging X number of balls in a row. I’ve seen all kinds of non-productive reactions to “bad” reps – cursing, stamping, slamming the floor, etc.

In order to prevent that sort of thing, I like to use drills and other exercises where the player is forced to immediately do something else. A very basic example would be doing a pass to hit type of drill where after receiving serve the player must attack a set ball. This serves not only to blunt the hypercritical reaction (hard to scream and yell when you need to go transition to attack), but encourages the player to quickly move on to the next thing, which is what they’ll need to do in a game.

You can do the same thing in a game context. It’s simply a matter of introducing another ball immediately after a rally ends.

Admittedly, these sorts of things done in training may not directly address the larger perfectionist issue at the individual level. They primarily seek to limit its impact. To the extent, though, that they make the player aware of their responsibilities in a team context, they can help to do some of the swapping outlined above.

What if you’re not coaching “the game”?

Over at the Arizona Sidelines Coaching Blog there was a recent post which addressed the subject of doing non-game-like drills. It included a lot of references to videos of activities which would appear to have very little to do with actual volleyball. The leading example was one where a coach was rolling balls and requiring a player to moved to them and roll them back. I’ve actually seen a variation of this drill run. The author said the following:

“Motor learning science is adamant about Game-Like Reps in practice; better skill acquisition, better transfer and better retention. Chasing rolling balls across the floor while 10 girls stand and watch doesn’t come up a whole lot in the game. So why?”

Now, I am very much in line with the philosophy of making things as game-like as we possibly can in training. Just the other day I had a go at men’s volleyball players at a recent match for some of what they were doing. Here’s a question, though.

What if we’re not actually training the game at the moment, though?

Let me clarify. In volleyball, as in anything, there are technical skills and there are game skills. Motor learning, as noted above, strongly suggests that skills are best developed in a game-like environment. And I doubt anyone will argue that learning things like reading and decision-making are also best accomplished in a similar fashion.

What about things that are not specific to the sport, though?

I’m not talking about physical stuff here. First off, you can make the case that any strength and conditioning work you do should be directly related to the sport you’re playing. Further, you can also make the case that much of that type of development is best accomplished on the court.

Instead, I’m talking about mental development. I have in mind what might broadly be classified as mental toughness. More specifically, it could include things like dealing with adversity, focusing on the next play and letting mistakes go, and those sorts of things. I know personally these are things I specifically work on with my teams. I’ve talked about ways of doing so in my Training beyond techniques and tactics post.

If mental training is the primary focus of a specific exercise, can we accept deviations from “the game teaches the game”?

Would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

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.