Tag Archive for small-sided volleyball

A 1-hour practice plan

The other day we had the last of the off-season practice sessions with the team before they went on Spring Break, after which we’ll go into the non-traditional season (Spring Training). For those with an NCAA background, you’ll know that only 2 hours of on-court work is permitted during the off season. All the players had done an hour already earlier in the week – either individually or in small groups. This session, though, featured everyone. As I only recently found out, that is now allowed in Division II.

Since we only have two practices before our first Spring tournament, the head coach wanted to give the players a chance to go 6 v 6 for the first time in a long while. It was therefore decided that 30 minutes of time was going to be devoted to that. The first 30 minutes was build up to it.

Here’s one of the tricks of maximizing your time with the players in this kind of situation. Get them to warm-up on their own before you get into the gym. That way you can go right to work. By the time we got there, the players were already into playing back row Winners 3s.

Activity #1
We had 12 players with just one court set up. The first thing we did was to have them play 3 v 3 on a narrow court. In other words, we had two games going on next to each other. The players were grouped by position, then did a count-off to decide their teams. Two rounds of play were run, with winners playing winners and losers playing losers for the second one. If I’m remembering correctly, it was a back row attack only game. Games were played to 8.

Activity #2
The second activity is something I did at times with my Svedala team. I developed it as a kind of a Belly Drill or Speedball variation in teams of 4 (counted off as above). Two teams were on the court with one off waiting to come on. The teams on played out a 4 v 4 rally (all hitting options available). At its conclusion, the losers were replaced by the waiting team while a coach initiated a ball to the winners (down ball over the net).

This is a fast paced game with very little down time for players. We played for 15 minutes and had the teams keep track of rally wins. I think it was something like 27, 25, and 20. So we got in at least as many points as you’d get in 1.5 sets in less time than it generally takes to play a single one. This is more rallies than we’d have gotten in had we been going with Winners 4s with the inherent delay of teams waving through to the winners’ side.

Activity #3
The last half of the session was given over to simple game play. The players were divided up by position, which created some imbalances and caused some funky rotational requirements. One of the assistants jumped in to balance out the hitting, while a pair of defenders split time playing back row for one team. They got into a second set before the hour was up and decided to keep going after we left.

Skill coverage
Let’s think about the various skills and how much they were included in this short session.

  • Serving was included in the 3 v 3 game and the 6 v 6, though in the latter case not everyone ended up doing it because of the team compositions (some players front-row-only).
  • Serve reception was part of both the 3 v 3 and 6 v 6.
  • Setting was included in all of the games, though it was only in 6 v 6 where the setters specifically took all the second balls. In the other games sometimes they did, but often times it was other players.
  • Hitting was included in all three games from a variety of locations.
  • Blocking was included in all three games, though only in the 6 v 6 was their regular double blocking.
  • Defense was included in all three games, with the 4 v 4 essentially starting each rally with a defense ball (down ball from the other side of the net).

So you could say the balance was skewed toward the “open play” type of skills – setting, hitting, blocking, defense – with a bit less in serving and passing. We could have boosted the serve reception by having the assistants serve a ball to start the next rally in the 4 v 4 game.

Game: Positional winners

As volleyball coaches, most of us are aware, and make regular use, of the game Winners – also known as King or Queen of the Court. There is a variation of the game much favored by John Kessel from USA Volleyball which is known as Speedball. That one, though, requires the right numbers to do properly. I also sometimes use yet another variation in which it is individual players rather than groups (teams) of players who operate in the winners fashion.

Something I started doing with Svedala was another variation on winners that allowed for more positional specialization. It started by having fixed setters, but otherwise playing winners around them. Simply put, the setter who won the rally went to/stayed on the winners’ side.

At times I also had the MBs fixed. That was in order to have the middles and setters working directly with each other – and against each other. So like with the setters, the MB whose team won the rally went to/stayed on the winners side.

Now, I only had two setters and two MBs in the team, so the switches were pretty straightforward. Just two players swapping places.

There were times, though, when I had some extra players in training. In those cases when I wanted to do the fixed MB system I basically had them rotate through like a more normal winners idea. The middle who won the rally was the winner, the losing middle came off, and a middle waiting on the side came in on the challenge side.

So basically what this turned into is a triple Winners rotation. The setters were on a rotation. The middles were on their own rotation. Finally, the rest of the players where in the bigger rotation. Usually, in those situations I had the game played in 4s. That means there was a pair of players from the collection of OHs, OPPs, and Liberos joining up with an MB and a Setter in each team.

I came to like this winners variation because it allowed for more specialized positional work.

Youth volleyball, Swedish style

One Sunday while coaching in Sweden I attended Svedala’s annual youth volleyball tournament. Over two sites and 8 courts the club ran several age groups, and both boys and girls. I spent the day on the site of the younger groups. In theory, this isn’t meant to be about particular age groups, but rather level of play. In practice, we’re talking generally 10s to 14s. Here’s a photo from the action.

Swedish youth volleyball in action

The rules at this level are different than what I’ve seen in other places. The matches are 4 v 4, which is similar to what I saw in England. As with England, they also play on a lower net. The difference is that in England they play on badminton courts while in Sweden they use full-sized courts. That may sound crazy for these age groups, but there’s a twist. They allow a bounce.

Here’s how it works.

Teams must play the serve normally. After that, the receiving team can let the ball bounce either after the first contact or after the second. A bounce is not require, however. From there on the bounce can come at any point, including immediately when the ball comes over the net. The team can only let the ball bounce once each time it crosses the net.

It was interesting to watch. There are definitely some pluses and minuses.

On the plus side:

– The players learn not to give up on the ball. A lot of balls that would otherwise be rally-enders remain in play because of the bounce allowance.

– There are more rallies, some of them quite long.

– The bounce, when used in what seems the most tactical way, creates and opportunity for players to generate more legitimate set-hit sequences. Specifically, a team can make a concerted effort to play a real first contact. They can then use the bounce to allow the “setter” to get into good position to set, which then tends to produce better balls for the hitters. I saw some pretty good swings as a result.

On the negative side:

– Allowing the bounce gives players an excuse to be a bit more passive than they might otherwise be in regular volleyball.

– Obviously, playing a bouncing ball is different than playing a normal pass, set, or hit. That means players are developing reading and movement patterns which will be of limited use in a real game.

One thing that is always an issue with young players in competition is they figure out pretty quickly that sending the ball back over the net fast limits the opportunities for you to make mistakes. In other words, players are incentivized not to play 3-touch volleyball. Sally Kus addressed this in her book Coaching Volleyball Successfully.

I didn’t notice that changing with the bounce rule, in particular among the most inexperienced players. The more experienced players did seem willing to try to develop a real attack. I don’t know if that is something they developed in the process of realizing that being able to use the bounce reduces the penal effect of a bad contact or a function of decent coaching – or both.

Training Plan: 11 players, just games

Priorities: Shake off the rust with lots of touches, start the process of the players getting to know each other at the beginning of a new season, get some initial impressions

Training time: 2 hours

Space: 2 courts

Players: 11 (2 setters)

Notes: Because set-up and take down were included in the allocated time, and some amount of time was necessarily allocated to introductions and initial discussion, the actual training period was somewhat less than 2 hours.

– – – The Plan – – –

Warm-up: No isolated warm-up.

Cooperative 1 vs 1 and 1 vs 1 w/fixed setter: Set up 4 games on 1 v. 1 and one game of 1 v 1 with a fixed setter. The idea is to get to 6 good pass-set-downball sequences. As soon as one group gets there, they all rotate in a clockwise fashion. If no one gets there in the time limit, rotate anyway.
11-player singles rotation3-person and 4-person pepper w/fixed setter: On one court is two groups of 3-person rotating over-the-net pepper. On the other court is a 2 v. 2 pepper with a fixed setter. The team’s two setters are market A and B. Again, play to six good pass-set-hit sequences (this time with jumping), or a the time limit. Rotation for the non-setters is clockwise. The setters switch positions each rotation.

11-player peppers

5-person and 6-person player winners: Each court has a game of Player Winners on it, one with 5 players and one with 6 players. Play for 5 minutes, then move the top 2 from the 5-person court to the 6-person, and the bottom 3 from the 6-person court the other way (now making the 5 a 6 and the 6 a 5). Play 5 more minutes, then send the top 3 from the 6-person court to the 5-person court, and the bottom 2 from the 5-person court to the 6-person court. Play another 5 minutes, then repeat the process from after the first round. Play one last round of 5 minutes.

Winners 3: Finish with standard Winners (3s in this case) Start with back court attacks only, then shift to allowing front court attacks as well.

– – – Observations – – –

The first two exercises went quicker than expected. As a result it was desirable to add a 5th exercise. The initial thought was to play Winners 4s, but instead Neville Pepper was used. The 9 non-setters were split up into three roughly equal teams. They were the teams to play through the games. The setters were used in a fixed fashion, switching sides when the challenge side won a rally.

Lots of players, little space – Help!!

Yesterday I had an email come in from a reader of the blog – or at least someone who stopped by for a visit. She asked:

I am currently coaching both a 5th and 6th grade team with a total of 22 players. However, we only have one small gym to use and we must practice them together a lot. Can you help me find drills to do that will include a lot of players?

I can totally sympathize with this problem. In my time coaching in England I was frequently forced to try to manage a lot of players in a small area – especially during try-outs for the university teams. It’s definitely a challenge.

The first thing I would bring up is something I know both USA Volleyball and Volleyball England – and I’m sure other federations – are proponents of at the grassroots/beginner level (and beyond). That’s mini volleyball. By that I mean not just playing small-sided games, but also playing on smaller courts. In England they have badminton courts in basically every gym. You can generally get 3-4 in the space of a volleyball court. Using them lets you go from 22 on one court to 5-8 on each court.

In the US badminton lines may not be as readily available, but it’s not hard to create them with tape, cones, etc. In terms of nets, you can use the badminton ones if you have them, or you can create your own long net to string across the gym. The great thing about working with beginners and youngsters is that you don’t really need to be overly concerned with net height. At Exeter the beginner group of university players often trained using standard badminton height nets.

USA Volleyball has a section on ideas for setting up mini courts in their mini volleyball guide.

The other idea I would toss out is stations. Break the gym up into areas where you can have players working on different skills. That will let you get them split up into smaller groups, which serves a similar purpose to mini volleyball. Smaller groups means more touches and less time standing around. You can then have them do movement and ball-control drills/games in 2s, 3s, or 4s.

As I mentioned previously, I’m actually working on a book aimed at helping coaches maximize their available resources. Being able to deal with high numbers/limited space is part of that. I would love to hear other ideas on how to do that. If you have one, definitely feel free to leave a comment below, Tweet it to @CoachingVB, post it on Facebook, or use the contact page to send it to me.