Tag Archive for serve receive

Coaching Log – Jan 18, 2016

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

This week saw our focus shift back to Elitserie play, with our first league match of the second half on Saturday. That meant getting locked in on grabbing one of the top 3 spots for playoffs so we’d have the opportunity to choose our first round opponent. It seems likely that the top 2 seeds will come from ourselves, Hylte, and Engelholm. That would mean the other needing to hold off Örebro for third, which may not be easy given their schedule advantage.

Even before Gran Prix, I made a decision the prior week that I was going to change the way we did dedicated serve reception training. We were 6th in the official team passing stats, and were third best at GP. I was observing that things would be pretty good the first few minutes, then tail off. I decided that from now on, I would only do short, focused exercises and make them competitive. Basically, I’d do servers vs. passers. Each server would get X balls (maybe 5) and the passers would have to average 2.0 or better to win. This struck me as keeping things more focused (on both ends).

Monday
After playing 10 sets in less than 24 hours sandwiched between van trips of 10 hours on Friday and 8 on Sunday, I wasn’t going to do any training. I did want them to do something physical for recovery purposes, though, so I opted for a team lift (normally done on Wednesday).

Before the lift I had a team meeting to talk about our path forward. I told them ahead of time that I was going to have each player contribute their thoughts on how we can keep working on getting better, can be better than Engelholm and Hylte, who are clearly our two big rivals this season, etc. I told them that I would have them share their thoughts one-by-one in age order. I decided to go this way so that all the Swedish players would have their say before the Americans. The latter tend to dominate team discussions because of personality and experience.

Here are the main things that came up in the discussion:

  • The desire for more game-planning
  • More work on technical passing
  • Being less up and down in our play
  • Having a better understanding of defensive positioning and communication with the block

On the game planning, I brought up the Engelholm away match from back in October. We did a lot of game planning the week leading up, including having some guest players in to play the part of the opposition’s big OPP. I came away from the match, though, feeling like we’d focused too much on them and it contributed to us freaking out under pressure in the match. I explained to them that was why I’d backed things down to providing annotated video (which they were expected to watch) and having discussions based on them. The focus has been more on how we attack them rather than how we defend against them.

One of the players did comment that we should keep in mind that just like we’re game-planning, so too is the other team. The important thing is being able to make adjustments, which I feel like we do fairly well.

The funny thing about the game-planning request is that it came right after I’d just gotten done saying I wasn’t going to spend much time focused on our next opponent. By that I mean I want us focused on our own play rather than worrying about what they’re doing. We need to take a bit of time to get things on our side of the net cleaned up, especially with two important matches coming up next week.

Not surprisingly, given prior discussions, there was a fair amount of talk about doing more drills. Players always want more “reps”. The argument, “We came up doing drills,” was once more put forth. Of course just because you’ve done something in the past doesn’t mean it was the best thing to do then, or the best thing to do moving forward.

Interestingly, one player actually seemed to speak in favor of the game play focus we’ve had to-date. She made the comment that what she’s heard from other teams is that we make plays no one else makes. It was something she attributed to all the playing we’ve done.

Also, as much as they want more drills, they agreed with me that the way we’ve been doing serving and passing up to now needs to change. They liked the idea of making it quick and competitive. I suggested for the more individual aspect of passing, we could do it as part of our ball-handing warm-up. They liked that idea.

The fact of the matter is that at this point things are almost certainly going to have to be more “drill” oriented. I put that in quotes because I’ll still look to make things as game-like as possible.

The reality of the situation, though, is that our numbers and schedule are going to mandate some adjustments. As compared to the first half, the training-to-competition ratio is a fair bit lower. We have 12 matches in the next 8 weeks, as compared to 26 training slots. And with fewer bodies, it will be harder to do lots of game stuff as I’d normally like. They players need to stay fresh for our matches – of which the majority will be very competitive by the looks of things.

There was some talk about being more situationally aware. The example used was not missing our serve when our strongest line-up was at the net. It also extended, however, to hitters being more aware of their blocking match-up as part of my desire to get more effective when they call audibles.

A comment was made about being more positive in our huddles. The thought was that perhaps part of the reason we’re a bit up and down is that we have a tendency to focus on what we’re not doing well rather than on how we can increase our application of what’s working. It was felt that maybe that brought the team down rather than allowing it to sustain momentum. I understood this to be more an issue of the players talking with each other, but there may also be stuff said by staff.

At the end I posed a question to the group on serving. I’ve noticed that we have a tendency to perhaps get overly target locked on a particular passer we’ve identified as weak. The result can sometimes be better than expected passing because of relatively easy serves. I asked them how they felt about the idea of starting matches off taking more of a “best serve” approach (the players go with their best serve regardless of target), and then, if we identify someone passing poorly that day, really narrowing in on them.

Tuesday
This was a heavy talking session. The main developmental points discussed in Monday’s meeting were the core priorities – serve reception, block-defense, and transition offense. The bulk of the time ended up getting spent on defense against attacks through 2 and 4. We went slowly. Blockers were focusing on proper positioning while defense was working on positioning around the block and reading the hitter.

We spent time after that basically flipped around with blockers against hitters, but no defenders. This was to work on the hitters making better audible decisions. The blockers were told to vary their starting position so the hitters would have to look at them before making a set call.

After that, I ran them through some 6 v 5 which started with serves to get some full game play in. We wrapped up with Winners 3s, back row attack only.

Wednesday
Apparently, Monday’s team weight training session was somewhat limited by the mass of folks in the fitness center motivated by New Year’s resolutions to get fit and/or lose weight. As a result, the players made a decision after Tuesday’s training to have a second team lift in their normal time slot. So basically the normal Wednesday schedule was followed.

We continued the work done on Tuesday in terms of working on block-defense and hitter audibles. I turned the order around, though, so hitter set calling got more attention. One of the things we talked about was the MBs giving the OHs more information on what they were doing so the latter could anticipate what would be called by the quicker hitters.

We also continued the serve reception work with the servers vs. passers game. Cooperative back row “team pepper” featured in the warm-up stages.

Friday
I was hoping to have an extra player, but it didn’t work out. That kind of limited things in terms of getting something like full game-play in. That was disappointing, but in many ways I was looking at Saturday’s match as a kind of live-fire training session.

After pre-hab, serving, and ball-control work at the outset, I had the players do some blocking technical work against hitters on boxes. I’m not a huge fan of that because it takes out much of the read aspect involved, but the focus was more on penetration and hand position. And in any case, a later exercise involved attackers essentially going against a team without a MB. That meant 1 v 1 swings against the pin blockers, with the defense in behind to work in their reading.

In between we did the Continuous Cross-Court Digging drill as a defensive preparation. I was actually pretty pleased with what I saw. Players are starting to expand their defensive range.

After the hitters vs. defense exercise, we played back court Winners 3s for the remainder. That was enough jumping and swinging, even though we finished in less than 2 hours all together. Even the players didn’t feel the need to do anything extra when I offered the opportunity.

Saturday
The day started with an early train ride up to the Stockholm area for the match against Sollentuna. The original plan had been to fly up and train back on Sunday, but in the end the cost decided that it was rail both ways (though still with a Saturday overnight stay).

Sollentuna’s men’s team had a home match as well, so our start was a bit later than usual at 5pm.

Sollentuna

We finally got a 3-0 win when our turn came. The first two sets we won comfortably. After getting out to a good lead in the third, though, we let them back in and only managed to win 27-25.

Serving was a big factor in both when doing well and when not. We ended up with 19 aces against 12 errors. Our two OHs each had 6 aces, and every starter had at least one. Now, that’s not a bad ace to error ratio at all. The problem was, a number of our misses came at bad times – after timeouts, when the other team had scored points in a row, etc. In particular, we started the second set by missing 3 out of our first 4 serves. That was something we’ve not had problems with for the most part in a while, which suggests either overly aggressive serving or a lack of focus.

Serve reception was better than average. Our pass rating was about 2.09. It was a bar bell type of distribution, though. The stats indicate 13 aces against out of 60 passes. That is much too high a percentage, but we had a lot of very good passes as well.

One thing I wasn’t pleased with was the set distribution. Our M2 and our OPP needed to have gotten more sets. I realize from a “want to win in 3” perspective that others were more likely to get kills, but this was a chance to spread the ball around and build depth in our attack that was missed. This relates to what I feel was a coaching mistake on my part in terms of substitution use.

We spent the night in Stockholm, with everyone basically given the night free. Then it was a 9:21 train back in the morning.

Thoughts, observations, and other stuff
Leaders Brøndby played a pair of Oresund Liga matches on the week. The first was a Danish league fixture vs. Amager on Thursday which counted toward both competitions. They won that 3-0. The second was a Saturday match against Gislaved. That one also ended 3-0. Those were the only two for the Liga this week.

The January schedule, in fact, is light. Only two more matches left on the month. Svedala doesn’t play it’s next match counting toward the Liga until February 10th.

The two wins sees Brøndby well clear of the pack at the top of the table. At this point, they are going to be very hard to catch. They are on 20 points while we only have 13 and Engelholm is on 10 (one fewer match played). Their remaining matches are against the stronger teams in the league – Holte, Engelholm, and ourselves – so it’s not a sure thing yet. We and Engelholm can only get to 22 points, though. That means if we both drop another match or Brøndby gets a 3 point win, they will be champions.

Coaching Log – Jan 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gran Prix 2016 program 2016-01-10 08.00.16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching Log – Dec 21, 2015

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

Entering the week we stood top of the table with 24 points having completed our 10 first half matches. The other key match of the weekend was Engelholm vs. Lindesberg, which was won by the home team 3-1. That did not settle things for sure, but it certainly put Engelholm in good position to qualify with 18 points to Lindesberg’s 13. Örebro was also on 18.

The four remaining matches before the Christmas break were Lindesberg vs. Sollentuna on Wednesday, Gislaved vs. Örebro on Saturday, then Hylte vs. Lindesberg and Engelholm vs. RIG on Sunday. If all matches went according to expectations based on prior performance, the seedings for Gran Prix would be 1) Hylte, 2) Svedala, 3) Örebro, 4) Engelholm.

Monday
This was a recovery session after Sunday’s match. After talking a bit about how we played and about Tuesday’s opposition, and dynamic warm-up, the players played a competitive game of volleytennis. I then had them do a bit of target serving. We followed that up with a little bit of work on blocking against live hitters. The players did most of the talking with each other about positioning and movement and the like, though I also talked about some technical elements. We finished up with some serve and pass.

Tuesday
Around midday I got a message from our third OH that she will be leaving the team. She’s been applying to universities. Unfortunately, she didn’t get into one in our area, so will be heading back up north (where she’s from). Not exactly the sort of development we needed given our already thin squad!

The match against Brøndby was played in their main hall where we played two of the matches from the pre-season tournament we won.

Brondby Hall

Things started off a bit rough. We struggled with our passing and made a number of errors in the first set. At the same time, though, we were able to put them under considerable pressure from the service line. The result was an odd reversal of our normal pattern. Instead of siding out well and struggling to score on our serve, we only sided out at 32% and scored at 58%. That saw the score end up closer than probably our play deserved at 19-25.

That pattern held for the second set as well, with the percentages roughly the same. We were more competitive generally, but still lost 22-25.Our passing in those first two sets were 1.86 and 1.46 respectively, which helps explain the poor side-out performance.

Our more standard pattern re-emerged in the 3rd set in line with better reception (2.06). That let us bring our MBs into the attack more, and that was one area where we had a notable advantage. In particular, I talked with with about using movement to essentially beat the other middle to the point of attack, which we generally did well as the match progressed. We ended up winning 25-18.

We got on top of them early in the 4th set, but some further struggles in reception allowed them to claw their way back. We were level at 21-21, but errors on our side ended up costing us and we lost 22-25.

Four missed serves on the set didn’t help. That may not seem like a lot, but we only had 3 in the previous sets combined. We only had 5 aces, but we put them under enough pressure that they were often very predictable and were taking something off their swings or making hitting errors.

I think at least mental fatigue was a factor in our performance after Sunday’s intense battle at Hylte. We made some mistakes we haven’t made in a while and generally struggled – especially in the first couple of sets – in some of the finer skills. Our OH2 in particular didn’t look her same self. Although her ankle seemed fine, no doubt there was a lingering effect there. The team fought hard and had a good spirit (staff from Brøndby actually commented on it to me after the match). We just made too many mistakes.

This match-up was a good one to have for a couple of reasons. One was that it saw us have to play against larger pin blockers, which we haven’t done much in a while. It was something we definitely struggled with, especially in the first couple sets. The challenge was to figure out how we could apply our strengths against weaker points in their block/defense, which largely meant working against their MBs. Our M1 had 22 kills and 6 blocks.

Actually, overall our blocking was fairly solid. We tallied 11 and forced a number of errors and easily dug swings. Admittedly, though, this team was the type with OHs who look to tool the block, which is what we’ve struggled against.

Wednesday
I had spoken with the team after the match on Tuesday about what to do on Wednesday. I didn’t see any need to have an actual training session – though the younger players may have wanted one. Instead, I was good with using our normal weekly team weight-lifting session as a low impact type of recovery session. We agreed on doing it about 2 hours earlier than we normally do.

At the end of lifting I talked with the group briefly about expectations for the break. Mainly that was staying active physically, but also keeping it low impact to allow aching muscles, joints, etc. to recover. We discussed a bit of the calendar moving forward as well. Then I took 7 of them out for dinner. The other two had commitments (one of the Americans has family visiting).

Other results and standings
Wednesday’s loss may have put an Oresund Liga title out of reach at this point. Brøndby is 4 points clear of the pack now with one less match played than Engelholm and ourselves who are both on 10. We’ll need some help and our own victory over them in the return fixture in February to have a shot. Our next match toward the Liga is our first match of 2016 – home against Holte.

On Wednesday Lindesberg easily handled Sollentuna, as expected. That moved them to within 2 points of both Engelholm and Örebro. It probably wasn’t going to be enough to see them earn a spot in Gran Prix, but it assured at least that things would go down to the last day of the first half of the season on Sunday before the spots were finally decided.

On Saturday Örebro played at Gislaved. An outright win would assure Örebro of at least 3rd seed. Anything less would see them a risk of being overtaken and possibly left out in the cold. They managed a tight 3-1 victory to put them level on points with Hylte. The table on the league website indicated them as having moved up to 2nd on the basis of number of wins (8 vs. Hylte’s 7), but there’s been some question as to whether that or set ratio is the actual second tiebreak. The latter favored Hylte and would continue to do so even if they lost 0-3 on Sunday.

That left Engelholm and Lindesberg as the final two from which the 4th and final spot in Gran Prix would be decided on Sunday. The strong edge went to Engelholm as they hosted winless RIG, while Lindesberg faced a daunting road trip to Hylte.

Here’s an interesting scenario. Going into Sunday, Hylte was in a position to potentially decide their semifinal opponent for Gran Prix. A 3-0 or 3-1 win would give them top seed and probably Engelholm as their first round foe. Anything less than that would mean a 2nd or 3rd seed and a match against Örebro. Obviously, a win over Lindesberg wasn’t a sure thing. If they preferred Örebro over Engelholm as their first round opponent, though…

If Hylte did prefer Örebro, they got them. They beat Lindesberg 3-2, meaning we ended up as the top seed. That result also sealed Lindesberg’s fate, keeping them out of 4th regardless of Engelholm’s result. In any case, Engelholm won 3-0, basically as expected.

Here’s the Elitserie table as of the end of the first half.

ElitSerie-Table-122015

Philosophy on 2-person serve receive

I had a question come in from a reader recently on the subject of serve receive. Here it is:

Do you have any thoughts, articles, philosophies about 2 person serve receive?  I am coaching a good 16s juniors team and would like to think outside the box some.

I have actually used a 2-man reception with a team myself. It was a boy’s team back in 1998 for a state tournament. I had two clearly strong passers – one an OH and one a RS. It worked out pretty well. We won the gold. 🙂

At that point, though, the serving in the boys’ game wasn’t as tough as it’s become. We didn’t face any jump servers that I can recall. As a result, it was much easier for two players to cover the court than it likely would be today. It would be a challenge to go with only 2 passers in the women’s game because they physically don’t cover as much space as men and the flatter trajectory of the serves already makes them very challenging to pass.

I can still see value in a 2-person reception focus, though. By that I mean having two players take most of the court with one or more others having smaller, defined areas of coverage. You can actually see this sort of thing at work when a team wants to limit how much passing a front row attacker has to do. They push them toward the side line and let the libero and back row attacker take like 80% of the court.

Personally, I think there are always opportunities to put your best passers in position to take the most balls. You need to consider what sort of serves you’ll be facing and look at your rotations. There may be ways you can position non-primary passers to take certain balls. For example, a MB taking short serves in their zone. It’s all about maximizing what you have.

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.

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 (about 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.

Drill: 1-2 Serve & Pass

Synopsis: This drill allows passers to work on receiving hard serves, and servers on serving them, but without lots of missed serves leaving passers standing around.

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

Requirements: 6+ players, 3 balls, a net.

Execution: Set up three players in serve reception on one side of the net, with a target, and 2 or more servers on the other side. The servers work in sets of three good serves. The first one is an aggressive serve to any of the three passers. The second and third serves are controlled balls to the two players who did not pass the first ball. For example, Server A serves a hard jump serve to the passer in Position 6, then Server A and Server B serve standing float servers to the passers in Position 1 and 5.

Variations:

  • Passers can rotate after each trio of serves, or stay in assigned positions if working on specialized training.
  • If you only have one properly aggressive/tough server, they should always serve the first ball, otherwise the first ball can be done in some kind of rotation.
  • If a server misses their serve they can either go again immediately, or the next server can go.
  • You can go for time, for some number of good passes, specifically for a target number of good passes off the aggressive serves, or make it a servers vs. passers game.
  • If you have sufficient players, you could run this drill 2-sided with servers and passers on both sides of the court.

Additional Comments:

  • This drill was introduced by Laurent Tillie at the HP Coaches Clinic.
  • This is a good drill to allow for aggressive serving without the common problem seen in most serving & passing drills where there can be lots of missed serves and/or balls going largely to the same passer/zone.

Serve first or receive first?

Your team wins the pre-match coin toss. Do you take serve? Or do you take receive?

At the upper levels of the sport the answer is very simple. You take receive. Why? Two reasons.

First, the sideout percentages are quite high for top level teams. Mark Lebedew shared some stats from the German men’s Bundesliga (top league) a while back which indicated that teams scored just about 2/3rds of the time when receiving serve. He’s since also provided data from Poland, France, Italy, and Russia. So from the perspective of getting on the board first, you don’t want to be serving.

Second, as Mark points out, the receiving team actually has less to do to win a set than the serving team:

“…in any given set, the number or sideouts is equal, give or take one.  What decides the set is the number of points the teams win on serve. The receiving team must win one more point on serve than its opponent to win the set. The serving team must win two more points on serve to win the set. Scoring a point on serve is more difficult than winning a point on reception. Therefore the team receiving first has an advantage.”

Of course the considerations are quite a bit different at the other end of the talent spectrum. There serving is much more dominant. If you’re coaching at a level where the sideout percentage is only about 1 in 3, then you’re going to want to have the first serve. The frequency at which points are scored on serve will tend to make what Mark outlines above irrelevant.

If you’re coaching in the middling zone where sideout rates are close to 50%, then other considerations may come into play.

Regardless, this is one area of coaching where knowing the relevant statistics can make for quite clear-cut decision-making. Of course, this might also tie in with how you decide your starting rotation.

Setter start position and the passing target

I saw the following question asked.

Should we have our setters start at the net, slightly offset from middle in the traditional target position (net zone 6 in the old USA Volleyball numbering system)? Or should we should allow them to go to a spot a bit further off the net.

The latter reflects a shift to have passes which aren’t as close to the net. This idea has gained traction, at least partly thanks to the spread of the Gold Medal Squared philosophy. I think the setter start position and the passing target are issues which deserve separate attention.

Passing Target

To my mind, where you have your passing target depends on a number of factors. Level of play is obviously a big factor. You don’t want to try to force a high level of accuracy on players lacking the technical skills. Also, if your setter basically just sets high balls it really doesn’t matter too much if the ball is off the net. At the same time there’s greater margin for error at the top end of the sport. The skill of setters and hitters there allow for less precision. The result is that teams in the middling levels are the ones who require the highest degree of passing accuracy to run a quick offense in the middle.

Coaches have begun setting their teams’ passing target a bit off the net to reduce the risk of overpasses. It’s similar to having your target for digs being middle of the court around the 3m line. Keep the ball on your side of the net and give your team a chance to get a swing.

I understand the motivation, and certainly do a lot of work with my own teams to avoid overpasses. There’s a trade-off which must be considered, though. It’s akin to the one we make when considering how aggressively we should have our teams serve. At a certain point more risk is required to be competitive. We have to consider the effectiveness of our pin hitters when deciding on a passing target. If they are able to consistently score (or at least put the opposition under pressure) then the more conservative passing approach is reasonable. If, however, our OHs and OPPs struggle to score, then we need more precise passing. That brings our middles into the equation and gives our pin hitters swings in better situations.

Setter Start Position

My personal philosophy is that the setter should always start at the net. They then react from there to move off the net if the pass requires. My reason for this is setters quite often get themselves into trouble when they try to move toward the net on a ball passed close. We’ve all seen it. After coming off the net the setter loses their sense of position. They then end up having to try to play the ball while moving toward the net. This tends to result in net touches, center line violations, ball-handling errors, or simply bad decisions. The mistake I tell my setters they cannot make is to mess things up by being out of position when one of their teammates gave them a perfect pass.

Now, that said, there are times when it might make sense for the setter to start slightly off the net. At the lower end of the playing ability scale, if you have a slower setter and the vast majority of balls are being passed off the net then a start position a few steps into the court makes sense. On the other end of the spectrum, if you have an athletic left-handed setter who can attack the ball effectively, having them start a bit off the net to be able to get a short approach can make sense.

As always, what we coach our team to do should depend on the specific circumstance of that group of players and the opposition we face.