Tag Archive for team psychology

Is it easier to play better teams?

Here’s a story from my days coaching in Sweden. On the train ride back from Stockholm, a group of my players talked about the prior evening’s match. We played the team second from bottom in the league. It was a team that only managed wins over the team last in the standings.

During the exchange, one of the players commented on how it can actually be harder to play weaker teams.

Now, as coaches I’m sure the first thing which comes to mind in a situation like that is motivation. For sure, it can be hard to get yourself up for a match you’re expected to dominate. Moreover, it can be hard to maintain your focus when you’re winning comfortably.

That’s not what this player was talking about, though.

She was actually looking at things in terms of predictability. The general thrust of it was that with better teams you basically know what they’re going to do. The ball comes over the net at predictable times and in predictable ways. With weaker teams, though, you are less sure of when and how the ball will come across the net. That makes things tougher.

One of my middles actually commented that during a certain stretch we had put them under so much pressure with our serve that for several points in a row she didn’t have to block at all. When they finally were able to run a good attack, she forgot she needed to block! 🙂

In situations like this, along with trying to keep the team focused on that things we want to work on, I also talk about the need to be constantly ready. You never can be sure when or how the ball will cross the net, so you have to be alert and in a position to make whatever move is required.

It’s important that we coaches also maintain our focus in matches like this.

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 Ă–rebro 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 Ă–rebro.

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 Ă–rebro 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 Ă–rebro 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 7, 2015

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

On Sunday in a potentially surprising result, Engelholm beat Hylte 3-1 at home, giving the latter their first loss on the year. Combined with our win over Lindesberg, that sees Svedala and Hylte equal on 17 points. We jumped Ă–rebro, who was inactive. The victory saw Engelholm strengthen its 4th place position. The only other match on the week saw Sollentuna get their first win in a 3-0 pounding of RIG. Here’s the table to start the new week.

Elitserie-Nov2915

Gislaved remained in mathematical contention for a spot in Gran Prix to begin the week as they could still get up to 15 points. If we beat them at their place on Thursday, though, or if they lost at home to Hylte on Saturday, it would officially knock them out of the running.

The remainder of the week’s schedule featured us hosting Engelholm and RIG hosting Lindesberg on Saturday, with Ă–rebro hosting Sollentuna on Sunday. With Lindesberg and Ă–rebro favored in their matches, our second go around with Engelholm was the one with the most likely chance of impacting on the hunt for Gran Prix spots. Two wins on the week would assure us of a top-2 seed for that tournament.

There were no matches counting toward the Oresund Liga standings, so the picture there started this week unchanged. Three matches this week, however, are on top for that competition. One of them is our away match to Gislaved. It was indicated originally that this one wouldn’t count, so maybe things will change at some point. The other two are Amager vs. Holte, meaning their Danish league match counting toward the Oresund Liga as ours with Gislaved does. The other is a cross-border battle: Holte vs. Engelholm.

Monday
I spent a whole bunch of time doing video work this day. I had to prepare some video on Thursday’s opponent, though just as a refresher since we’ve played them before. I shared game footage from their most recent match, and also pointed them to our prior meeting. I also prepared and posted video from our last two matches (Hylte and Lindesberg) so they could review.

For training, I was without my two starting OHs. One is still fighting a persistent illness while the other is recovering from the leg issue she developed during the match on Saturday. As per usual following a match, we started training talking about developments and started the process of looking forward to the next match.

One of the key components of that was our serving, where we’ve seen our error to ace ratio in recent matches push a bit higher than we’d like (it was 14 to 7 against Lindesberg). I don’t normally call out individuals in this kind of situation, but three players in particular have been the biggest factor. For the season they have something like 17 aces against 47 errors. We talked about the need to be more consistent, though I have also encouraged two of them in the development of their serves so, there’s balancing act.

As tends to be the case, this was a more technical session.

One of the three things I wanted to focus on were to continue training the step in digging. We did that using attacks from boxes over the net in a step up from what we’ve done.

A bigger priority, and what we spent the most time on was blocking. That started with an exercise in movement and footwork. We’ve had some issues with floating blocks, so I had the players working in their position to move fast and get a good plant with the outside foot. Later, we extended that by having the blockers work against hitters on boxes to add in the hand positioning.

Mixed in was a serving drill. The players were told to serve in to one half of the court. If they got the ball in that zone they got +1. If they missed the zone, but the ball was still in the court, that was 0. If they had a serving error, it was -1. The objective was to get to +10.

We finished up with a small-sided, narrow court game to 21.

Tuesday
The two starting OHs were once more out for training, but we had a couple of additions for a total of 10. After warm-ups, I had them continue their work on digging balls to the side with a cut-off step, but only in partners this time. I then also had them repeat the blocking footwork done on Monday. To complete the trio, they did the same +10 serving exercise, though focusing on the other half from what they did the prior session.

I had them play Speedball in teams of 2 with fixed setters as a game play warm-up. The rest of the training was spent doing 6 v 4. One of the sidelined OHs served from the 4 side to the 6. Once that rally played out, I gave a free ball to the 4 side. The setter on that side was back row. I started the 6 side with the setter in 1. Because I wanted to limit the amount of jumping for the starting setter, I had her play her three back row rotations, alternating rotations in which the MBs were front row (so 1, 5, 6). For the three front row setter rotations, I had the back-up setter playing on the 6 side.

A really fun element of the 6 v 4 was the excitement of one of our guest players – a young member of the 2nd team. She was playing OH on the 4 side. During the latter part of the exercise she started really connecting on her attacks and hit several balls really well. After each one she jumped and screamed as if she’d just won a championship. 🙂

Wednesday
Because the team in on “active rest” this week, we didn’t do team lifting before training. That will resume next week when they start the next training cycle.

The OH with the leg niggle (turns out to be hamstring related), was back for this session, but the one who’s been struggling with a long-term illness remained on the sidelines resting. As per usual, they began Wednesday training with 2-ball volleytennis.

A bit of pepper to extend the warm-up was followed by the cooperative cross court hitting drill. We haven’t done that one in a while and will face a team that is very left-side heavy in their offense – and further favors cross-court attacks. It’s not the most game like exercise in terms of replicating what we’ll see, but at least it gave us some work on defending.

From there we did some serving for consistency. That was then followed by the Winners back row 3s where instead of waving through, the losing team is replaced directly on their side while I initiate a ball to the winning team. Thursday’s opposition also likes to use the pipe attack, so this was a chance to work on defense against it.

From there we moved to a set of 5 vs 4 half court games. The 5 side had a front row setter, MB, and OH, with the libero in 5 and a guest defensive player in 6. The 4 side had a MB and RS in the front row and a setter and OH in 6 behind. They played the win or revert game I mentioned in a recent post, starting with the score at 20-20. I had them play 2 games in the initial player configuration. I then swapped players around after each set of 2. I think overall we played 8 or 10 games.

The session wrapped up with a bit of serve & pass. The MBs took turns working on reading the setter.

Thursday
This was a long midweek road trip than I think most folks would judge reasonable – 2.5 – 3.0 hours drive. Even the opposing team coach said as much. We left Svedala at a bit after 2:00 for the 7:00 match. Granted, we generally look to get to the facility about 2 hours ahead of start time. It wasn’t a horrible ride – certainly less onerous than the one to Lindesberg on the weekend.

2015-12-03 21.00.02

The match stared out well enough. We took the first set 25-15. Then it seems like we lost focus and let the energy we had bleed away. The result was a 14-25 loss in the second set.

The first part of the third set (after a 15 minute break) started off better, but still with a few niggles. We were having problems getting a good block formed against their outside attack because we were floating. I got a bit angry after seeing it happen one more time and called timeout, during which I instructed our right side players that they were to no long swing block (which we normally do), but to do square blocking.

No, we didn’t start blocking every ball. In fact, I’m not sure if we got a single block in either the 3rd or 4th sets. And no, our blocks weren’t always perfectly formed. Heck, I’m not even sure if they did what I said (need to check the video). What did happen, though, is that we put up a consistently better block that had the opposing OHs looking to hit around them (often to get dug) or have their swings go off the block to the defense.

We ended up winning the third 25-20 and the fourth 25-16.

Blocking issues aside, there were some good positive elements to our play. Defensively, we continue to improve. Our ace/error ratio was 13/11, which is a reversal of the recent pattern. Our 3rd OH came in as a serving/defense sub in three of the sets and scored 7 points on 9 serves. We passed above a 2.00 Our two American attackers were still the only ones in double digit kills, but unlike last time when no one else has more than 2, this time they all did – and had some good swings even when they didn’t get a kill. We hit about .290 as a team, with 45% kills. In fact, if you take out the 2nd set, we were up over 50%.

We did make our fair share of poor decisions, though. Our MBs got faked out a number of times (Gislaved’s setter is good at that), including the hated jumping with the back row setter. There were also a few plays where communication broke down.

Friday
My OH2 messaged me in the afternoon saying her doctor told her to come in to be checked out Saturday. She’s been fighting an illness for weeks and was put on penicillin this week. Her doctor told her if that didn’t help her then something potentially serious may be going on and that she shouldn’t be training or playing. The ironic thing is she’s been playing some of her best volleyball in recent matches. Potentially losing her in this crunch time period was not something I wanted to hear.

Training was very light. I had them do some 4-person over-the-net pepper, then transitioned that into rotating cooperative cross-court hitting at low intensity just to move and touch balls in a relatively game-like fashion. I had them do it both swinging through 4 and through 2. After that we did some target serving. The last part of training was serve and pass with some players mixing in a bit of hitting as well.

Saturday
We hosted Engelholm following the 2nd team playing a league match of their own. My sick OH was OK to play, but it was pretty easy to see that she wasn’t really mentally prepared to do it. I made the decision to start our third OH in her place. Honestly, I wasn’t sure it was going to make too much of a difference which of them was in based on the match-ups, but the one who started has been working hard and getting better, so deserved the opportunity.

The match was up and down. We lost the first set 21-25, then won the second 25-17. After the break, we in turn got trounced in the 3rd 16-25 thanks to a really bad start. We turned it around in the fourth to take the set 25-22, then used a good start to the 5th to take it 15-10 and get 2 points.

We struggled early on to stop their big OPP, but over the course of the match gave her more problems and forced her into bad swings. She still go her fair share of points, put our pressure on them with the serve really made a difference.

Thoughts and observations
This week’s two wins actually gives us our first winning streak since back in preseason. Good time for it as it secured a spot in Gran Prix and potentially a 1st or 2nd seed.

Two matches left until the holiday break. I might look to use it to give some players a break here or there, but it will depend on how things go.

Coaching Log – Nov 30, 2015

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

As expected, Ă–rebro got the win against RIG over the weekend in the only Elitserie match scheduled. That moved them to the top of the table on 15 points. That’s tied with Hylte/Halmstad on points, but with one more match win. That saw Svedala start the week in 3rd on 13 points.

This week’s schedule featured three matches with Gran Prix implications. We had away matches against Hylte on Wedneday and Lindesberg (5th place on 10 points) on Saturday. On Sunday, Engelholm hosted Hylte. The two bottom teams – Sollentuna and RIG – also played on Saturday.

There was just one match for the Oresund Liga over the weekend as well. Gislaved got their first win in beating Amager 3-0. That was a good result for us as it kept Amager from catching us for 3rd in the standings. There were no matches happening this week.

Monday
We finally had a full squad in training fit and healthy once again, plus a guest player for a total of 10.We spent a bit of time at the start of training talking about Wednesday’s opposition before getting things rolling.

One of the long-term developmental needs at the individual level for this squad is being able to take a step toward the ball when digging a driven ball. I added an element to the end of warm-ups to get us more focused on that. For now it’s doing then step based on a partner thrown ball (and we need work on even doing that well), but the plan is to progress it rapidly to hit balls and to get it specifically incorporated into defensive work.

Our first primary drill was a 2-sided serve-pass-hit drill with 2 passer/hitters, a setter, and 2 servers on each half court. The passer had to hit a set they called. To give the setters some reps as well, toward the end I had our MBs setting so they could also get some setting reps.

We then shifted to a 3 v 6 drill. I had a variation on the starting team run through a couple of key rotations. First they received a serve and attacked against 3 blockers. They the 3 side ran an attack off a tossed ball to the setter on their side.

To finish with something competitive and up-tempo, we did some 22 v 22 to finish, with teams of 5. One side had defenders in 1 and 5 and the other in 5 and 6 (front row setter).

The starting setter at the beginning of training had asked to do some 6-person play to work on receive and transition offense. She was happy with being able to work on that stuff. Early on in the 3 v 6, though, I did have to get the players focused. They were a little scattered and I reminded them that after basically 3 weeks of not having the full team training together full speed hardly at all (I think just one practice), we needed to get synced back up quickly given the schedule ahead.

Tuesday
With two guest players on-hand we had 11 in training. After warm-ups and pre-hab I had the team split out so the setters could get some reps while the rest did some ball-handling. I had them do a cooperative 2 v 2 game of 2-touch with the objective of reached 21 consecutive. From there I had the MBs go with one setter and the rest with the other. The latter worked on serve-pass-hit while the former worked on quick and slide connections. About halfway through I swapped setters.

To take advantage of the numbers, and to prep for Wednesday’s match, we did 6 v 5, going through the rotations on the 6 side. We did alternating serves, with a team needing to win two rallies in a row to get a point. After one side got 3 points, we rotated.

After that, the players wanted to go more up-tempo, so we did something similar to the 3 v 6 from the night before. This time it was 5 v 6, but I ran it the same way. The 5 served to the 6 and then got a free ball play to run. Again, we ran through the rotations.

Wednesday
On the road to Halmstad Arena for the match against Hylte/Halmstad.

Halmstad

Nice facility. Wish they had a bigger crowd.

Anyway, the match started pretty ugly. We got thrashed in the first set, 25-13. Given the rough training situation of the last three weeks, I couldn’t say I was surprised. Too many hitting errors. We literally only scored points in one rotation.

I changed the rotation for the second set to have our M1 go across the front straight away (she started in 2 in the first set) because our M2 just wasn’t looking like she was going to be effective. Also, the other team clearly had a strategy of serving my O1. Turning things back put us in a position where she could focus on passing from the start without having to think as much about hitting (though she actually passed fine). We ended up winning that set 25-22, and won the third set by the same score.

Things were cruising along in the fourth set. We were up 19-13, but let them back in. They caught and passed us to win 25-23.

The fifth set saw us fall behind 5-1, but after a timeout we got things turned around. We ran off 8 straight points to go up 9-5. They fought back to 9-8. We were up 12-10, but the stayed in it. We had a serve for match point at 15-14, but our young setter who went in as a serving/defense sub, put the ball in the net. We ended up loosing 17-15.

That match point miss wasn’t the only bad error. We had a few of them in the 5th set, plus a few more in the 4th set as well. On top of that, our M1 who is our big point scorer, stopped attacking the ball aggressively. I think in the last set she only hit the ball hard once – a narrow miss on a good set. Everything else was roll shots. All together, she only had 4 kills (plus 3 errors) when she had 9 kills combined (only 1 error) in sets 2 and 3. She even had 5 kills in our horrible first set!

Basically, as was the case when we played Engelholm a month ago, we choked and got tight when we were in position to win. That said, I suppose if you asked me if I’d take a 3-2 loss – and the point that comes with it – after the way we lost the first set, I probably would have said “Yes”.

Thursday
Not so much Thanksgiving action for me this year. In the morning I went to Lund to pick up a printed copy of my PhD thesis from one of our part-time players who goes to school there. I then spent the rest of the day in the library getting work done. Did have a turkey sandwich for lunch, though!

Friday
After the tough match on Wednesday and with an eye toward our long day up coming on Saturday, I kept training fairly low intensity. We started off talking about the match. Mostly, I did the talking about needing the courage to stay aggressive and continue to play the way we got ahead in the first place when in those sorts of situations again. The team also brought up the thought that part of the issue with our “choking” has been that communication faded when we were up – meaning we were getting complacent. We also went over the scouting for the next match. After that, basically it was the same 1-hour structure we use for our home match day serve and pass sessions.

Saturday
We left home shortly after 7:00 and stopped for lunch about 45 minutes out from our destination – Lindesberg. Got there just about 2:00 for the 4:00 match. Following on from Friday’s conversation, we focused a lot on keeping the communication going from start to finish.

The first set was fairly back and forth. We made more errors than we should have, but eventually we got on top to win 25-21. In the second set were were in control just about throughout, resulting in a 25-17 win.

The break was 15 minutes, which really didn’t do us any favors. Our starting setter was already feeling the long van trip in her back, and our O1 developed some kind of muscle strain or something near her knee early on. The break only served to cause them to tighten up. No doubt helped by that, we had some struggles in the third set and were down 21-14. We narrowed the gap dramatically, though, and only ended up losing 25-22. We might have been able to do even better were it not for a missed serve.

The four set saw us get back on top of them. I think it was 19-13, before they started their own late rally. A couple of consecutive passing errors by our O1 helped them get uncomfortably close, but we finished it off 25-23.

I was quite happy with our defense overall. We quickly adapted to their play and were able to dig a lot of balls. Our block was a bit inconsistent, though we still had 11 total on the match officially (on the bench we counted 13). There were just times when we allowed the opposing hitter to absolutely bomb the ball because our positioning wasn’t right. By the numbers, we’re the best blocking team in the league by a healthy margin, but we can get better.

Our serving can still get better as well (we also lead the league in a aces/set). We had 14 errors in the match. Two players accounted for 8 of them, though. One is my M1 who has struggled all season. She can go on strings of points, but then miss her next three serves. The other is our OPP who is working to develop her jump serve. I encouraged her to try it early in the match, which didn’t work out. Oh, well. She’ll get better.

It was a long trip back after that. I didn’t get home until nearly 2:00.

Thoughts and observations
Hopefully, being able to hold Lindesberg off when they rallied back on Saturday is a step in the right direction in terms of tackling the tentativeness that has crept in to our play in those situations. I didn’t see the same sort of hesitancy, though I did see a bit of hyperactive stuff creep back in. We made a few foolish decisions. Need to find the middle zone.

Our libero has been noticeably more active in directing things in serve reception. Noticing that, for Saturday’s match I gave her some additional authority. Lindesberg has a strong jump server (though inconsistent). I told the libero that she should feel free to bring the OPP and/or MB in to cover parts of the court if she thought it was the right thing to do. It was something I reinforced during a timeout when that server had had a couple of good serves. She did pull the OPP to take the line ball. We ended up winning that rally because the server didn’t giver herself a great toss.

Coaching Log – Nov 23, 2015

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

This being week 8 of the regular season, it’s the end of the initial weight training cycle and the program I gave the team. As a result, I had the players re-test their bench and squat weights for comparison and we did another set of physical evaluations at the start of Friday’s training.

There was only one league match set for this week. Ă–rebro hosted RIG on Saturday, with the home team strongly favored. That will leave Ă–rebro with the bottom team, Sollentuna, and Gislaved, who haven’t beaten any but the bottom two thus far, as their remaining schedule before the break. The Gislaved match is away, which could be tricky, but they still have an excellent shot at getting 9 more points, pushing their total to 21. That would certainly qualify them for Gran Prix.

That means it is very likely down to Engelholm, Hylte, Lindesberg, and Svedala as to who gets the other three places. Lindesberg has an edge in that they have matches against RIG and Sollentuna to pad their point total. All of us play each other at least once (we play Hylte twice), though, so we’ll decide things head-to-head – as you’d like it to be.

Monday
As usual, training started with a bit of talk about the prior match and our path forward. After warm-ups and a variation on volley tennis, we did a serving exercise. It focused on serving the seams, with the players have an objective getting to 10. To focus on making our mistakes long rather than in the net, serves that didn’t go over were a -1.

We transitioned from there to serving and passing. Because of our struggles with Rotation 1, we focused on that. Hitters and setters rotated through, with the sets going to the MB or the hitter/passer in 4. In line with a concern I’ve had the last couple weeks, our passing wasn’t great. We’re having technical issues when we have to move for the ball. Platforms are just not holding their angle to target. The tricky part of it all is that we’ve had issues with serves that tend to drop short, which encourages playing shorter. That then means having to move back.

Training wrapped up with Winners 3s. We only went maybe 75 minutes all in all.

Tuesday
One of the core group was out sick, but we had three additional bodies to bring it up to 11. That’s not as many as I was expecting, but the additional players definitely made a difference – both in terms of allowing me to do some different things and in the overall energy of the session. One of the things I wanted to do was to keep the number of jumps down for certain players while still being able to work on developmental issues, so I structured things with that in mind.

After warm-up and prehab activities, I split the group out. The setters and MBs went on a side court to work on their connections while the libero and pin hitters were on center court working on passing. In the case of the latter, I had them do a version of the serving and passing triples. I wanted them to work specifically on having to move back for the ball, so I had the passer start at the 3m line and the server (who was only at about mid court) serving deepish balls. I set up the video delay to focus on the passers so they could look to check their mechanics.

This was then carried over when I brought the whole group together and had everyone else serving to the primary passers. Since there were four in the rotation, they could look to the replay as they stepped off the court after a pass. I felt like passing on the whole was better and the players did feel like having the replay helped them focus on their technique more.

Next up was the continuous cross-court digging drill. After some relatively static stuff – especially for the passers – I wanted to up the intensity while obviously also working on digging the ball.

From there we moved on to a variation of Speedball Winners on a narrow court. I had fixed setters and MBs, with the winners part being the 2 players playing with them. Along with continuing the earlier setter/MB connection work from earlier, it also got in some blocking and additional defense in preparation for the full team play which followed.

The last part of training was some 22 v 22 play. I had the team of 6 in Rotation 4, which has consistently been our weakest rotation in both point scoring and serve reception. We played one game with the 6 receiving and one with them serving. I then had back-up setter switch in and played one more with the 6 receiving.

Wednesday
I had a trio of players out of training for various health reasons, leaving me with just six. In talking with the captain we decided to just have them do their normal weight training session. In the end, though, they decided they wanted to do a bit of serving and passing work, with a little hitting thrown in for a couple of them. It probably went about 90 minutes all together.

Friday
I had two players out – one still sick and the other with a family emergency that arose right before practice (or at least that’s when she told me about it). We had a guest player to give us 8. As planned, we started with re-doing the physical assessments we did back at the beginning. That included a star type agility drill, a T test at the net, singled and triple broad jumps, and a sequence of medicine ball throws. We added a vertical leap test using the My Jump app on my iPad. This was my first time using it. Basically, it measures jump height by calculating time from takeoff to landing.

The first part of training wasn’t really impacted too much by the late player drop. I had them do some serving and passing. Unfortunately, both of the missing players are OHs, and thus primary passers, so that didn’t work out quite the way I had planned, but generally served the purpose.

After that I’d planned on doing a back row only Winners 3s. I shifted that to Speedball with teams of 2 on a narrow court. I then had them play a game to 15 in 4 v 4 fashion. This was still back row attacking only, though each side had a front row setter.

The last 30 minutes or so of training was dedicated to a constrained 4 v 4 with rallies initiated by alternating down balls. At first I had MB-OH-L-S on one side (Setter in 1) against MB-RS-S-DS with the DS in 6. I flipped the setters, and MBs around, and had the RS flip between front and back row. I later moved the DS from the second side over into 5 so the opposing side could hit cross court (but not to 6).

Thoughts and observations
Such a massive difference between training with 11 as we did on Tuesday and only training with 8 the rest of the week. Not only does it give me more options for developing training, there’s better energy. I’m doing everything I can to get more players in practice, but it’s a struggle.

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. Ă–rebro 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.

Handling guest players in training

If you followed my Svedala coaching log entries, you perhaps noticed that on occasion I had guest players in training. Sometimes they were players evaluating whether they were going to be part of the team (former players). Sometimes they were players looking to get in a training session when their schedule allowed. In other cases they were members of the second team.

Each type of guest player requires a different thought process.

For example, when bringing in players from the 2nd team to train with us I looked to keep their roles very well defined. They were focused in areas where they were likely to succeed. It wouldn’t do my training efforts or their confidence level any good if I asked them to do things they just couldn’t do at a level comparable to that of the rest of the group. I wouldn’t help them and I wouldn’t help my team.

One week offered one of the more interesting guest player situations.

I receive a request from the coach of the Swedish equivalent of the national volleyball academy (RIG). He wanted to know whether a couple of his players could train in with us, as they were out of school. These were players from our region. One player, in fact, was from Svedala and played in youth teams with players in my squad. From a forward looking perspective, these are players who would potentially be targets for the team when they finished at RIG. That adds a kind of recruiting aspect to the mix.

Here’s the rub, though. RIG’s first team competed in the Elitserie as we did (their second team played in the 2nd division, as did our 2nd team). We played them the following weekend. How much did I want to talk about specific tactics and strategies when players from a rival club were in the gym with us?

Now, in the case of RIG it  was not a major competitive concern. They were a team we should have been able to handle. I did not worry about them reporting back to their coaches. The thing I was sensitive to, though, was talking about internal things with non-team members present. That goes for any kind of guest – player, coach, parent, club administrator, etc.

No, I wasn’t freaking out

Once when I coached in Sweden a reporter asked me a question after a match. He wanted to know if I thought we were repeating the pattern of the prior match.

As I reported in my Coaching Log at the time, in the prior match we went up 2-0 fairly comfortably, had late leads in both the 3rd and 4th sets, but ultimately lost. To my mind, a big reason for that was playing not to lose rather than continuing to play to win. In this following match we again won the first two sets fairly comfortably. Then they blew us out in the 3rd and we had to fight to win the 4th, pulling away late.

I told the reporter that I did wonder to myself at one point whether I should worry about a repeat performance. I’d rejected that idea as soon as it appeared in my head, though.

The third set was once of those fluky things that happens in volleyball sometimes. Could be a lack of focus. Could be the other team gets a motivational boost coming out of the 10 minute break. Who knows?

The fourth set was nip and tuck most of the way. We didn’t have a late lead that we conceded, as happened in the prior match. In fact, looking at where we were in the rotation, I was confident.  We were going to win once we got our nose ahead late.

So no. At that time I wasn’t worried that we were replaying the script from the prior match. Were there things we needed to iron out in that 3rd set? For sure. But they were just part of the overall developmental process. It was is still early in the season with a fairly young team.

Too much thinking about the opponent

There was an article a while back about the concept of Big Game Syndrome. It focuses on football, but the idea applies to any sport.

The article describes Big Game Syndrome as a situation where a team or coaching staff feels they must do even more work and be even more uptight than usual when facing a perceived important game or match. The prime example provided was football teams facing the New England Patriots. The view is that they need to do something extra special to outsmart Bill Belichick. The result is decision-making which goes down poor paths.

While coaching in Sweden once, I found myself wondering if I’d succumb to a version of Big Game Syndrome with respect to my team’s matches. We spent the better part of a week talking about that match. In particular, we focused on the other team’s big attacker. The result was that we were probably too focused on the other team and not focused enough on us.

Of course there are times when looking for any possible edge you can find to win is important. To my mind, though, I felt afterwards like I made the mistake of doing that sort of thing at a time when our focus should have been the development of our game.

On the face of it, the fact we went up 2-0 suggests I was wrong. Maybe we spent the right amount of time on scouting and game planning. The fact of the matter is, though, we won those sets despite not playing very well. This was especially in the first set. We didn’t get a kill until our 10th attack. The other team kept us in it by missing a bunch of serves.

The over-thinking element came into play later in the match. We felt the pressure of trying to fend the other team off when we had late leads. It made us hesitant and cautious and led to some poor decisions.