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Tag Archive for transition offense

Audible offense or setter play-calling

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

Here’s the email:

Hello Coach,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

T.M.

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

Audible offense or play-calling?

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

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

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

The primary attacker approach

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

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

Hitters calling for what they want

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

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

Setter processing

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

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

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

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 4, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We finished with two games of 5 v 6.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching Log – Nov 16, 2015

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

Results in the Elitserie from the week ending November 8th offered up one surprise – Örebro needing five sets to beat Sollentuna away. That earned the home team their first point of the season. The other result was Gislaved losing at home to Engelholm. Given the form of the those two teams of late, not a shock result. Those outcomes move both the winners above us in the standings, but having played two more matches.

Elitserie-Nov0615

No teams are out of the running yet for Gran Prix. The qualification will be based on the first 10 matches, with the top 4 getting in. Sollentuna and RIG are certainly well off the pace, but play each other twice in the weeks ahead, so one of them could make a move up the table. Gislaved looks like they may struggle to qualify as their next four matches are no easy path. Lindesberg is the wild card at the moment, as they’ve only played three matches so far.

As for Svedala, with two matches in-hand, so to speak, we look to be well positioned. It won’t be a cake walk, though. We have two away matches against Hylte/Halmstad, along with trips to Lindesberg and Gislaved mixed in with this week’s home match vs. RIG and what is likely to be a tough one against Engelholm next month.

The above mentioned Gislaved – Engelholm match also counted toward the Oresundliga standings, entrenching the latter at the top of the table. The Danish teams all have a match in-hand.

Oresundliga-110615

We don’t have another match that counts toward this league until mid-December. That’s our last match before the holiday break.

The Svedala U23 team, featuring all of the Swedish players from the first team, took Silver at the national tournament. They lost in the final to Engelholm.

Monday
Sometimes the coach goofs and forgets the equipment closet keys at home. When you’re training in your main gym, that may not be so bad as it would be a quick turn around to go home and get them. When training in your gym 20 minutes drive away, that doesn’t really work. I’d hoped our manager had a copy of the key, but he didn’t and no one in the facility had one either. Basically had to scrap training. We talked a bit about some stuff I observed on video and how things went at the U23 tournament. Then I released the players to go work out.

Tuesday
We had six and a half players for training – the half being our starting setter who was recovering from her back injury. She did a little setting at points.

I started off talking with them a bit about some stuff I did on video for them looking at our defense, hitter transition, and blocking from the last match. In particular with the blocking, I saw that we were consistently late. We did prehab and I had them do a bit of partner 2-touch, which transitioned into a serving warm-up. I then had them to some deep serves with a focus on the ball being below the top of the antennae. When they reached the objective, they then shifted to short serves.

I then had them do a 3 v 3 version of the Hard Drill. Along with being a decent preparation for the hitting that was to come, it also worked on defense against back row attacks, which is something we talked about at the beginning in terms of positioning.

This was followed by some serving and passing. The servers were banging out some really tough balls, making the passers struggle considerably at times.

The rest of training was a sequence of hitters against block and defense. I started by having a blocker in 2 with defenders in 1 and 6. On the other side I had two attackers hitting in 4 plus the libero. The not hitter of the two attackers passed a ball that the libero then had to set. The defense needed to get 7 blocks or good digs. I rotated players around.

We did something similar with attacking through 2 against a blocker in 4, with defenders in 5 and 6. Since the libero was playing in 5, I had the setter set in this case. We also did attack in 4 with block in 2 and defense in 5 and 6.

Although this wasn’t a particularly high intensity session, it was physically demanding for the hitter/blockers, who got a lot of jumps. I wasn’t worried about fatigue given we didn’t train on Monday and wouldn’t go again until Friday. Along with working the defense and block, it was also a good exercise for the hitters working against the block. On top of that, it was an opportunity for the libero to work on putting up hitable balls. This is something we need to develop with her, as she’s not confident in that role.

Wednesday
No training today as the 2nd team had a home match. I attended and spoke with five of the players from that team afterwards about coming to train with the first team – probably Tuesday and/or Friday when they don’t train with their team. They mostly seemed eager. I told them they would be expected to turn up, work hard, make aggressive mistakes, and listen to the older players. I think we’ll have them with us on Tuesday.

Friday
Our starting setter was back to more or less full training. She avoided going to the floor on defense, but otherwise did everything else, including blocking. That gave us 9 in training with our two young players back from their school trips.

We talked at the beginning about focus points for training and Sunday’s match. I told them increasing in-rally defensive communication is the thing I want the whole team focused on, and that each should pick something individual.

After warms ups I had them do the last part of the Twenty-one drill, which is basically 3-person over-the-net pepper with a goal of getting 21 straight pass-set-dig sequences. I don’t know if it was the lack of training this week, or something else, but the players seemed to lack a bit of focus. It took them longer than usual for a group to actually reach the objective.

I had them do some serving to get their shoulders warmed-up a bit further, and to prepare for later activities. I used the opportunity to video one of my MBs, who is working on on jump float serve.

From there we moved to a variation on Winners I haven’t used before. In this case, rather than waving through the winners side, the team losing a rally stepped off to be replaced by the team waiting to come on. While that was happening, a ball was played over to the winning team to start the next rally. In this case we did back row 3s with no tipping in front of the 3 meter line. The focus was on reading the attack, adjusting the defense properly, and communicating throughout. I liked how it went.

Serving and passing with the MBs and setters getting reps came next. I had two of the pin hitters passing with our libero, with one setter and one MB running sets off the passes. After 5 good attacks, the MBs switch. After both MBs got their 5, I switched the pin hitters passing and swapped setters.

The last main element of training was a series of 4 v 5 games. On one side I had a setter in 2 along with a MB in 3, an OH in 4, the libero in 5, and another OH in 6. Set against them was our RS in 2, setter in 1, MB in 3, and OH in 6. The team of 4 served. After the initial rally played out, that team received a down ball. Games were played to 10 points. I rotated the setters back and forth, and flipped the setter and RS on the team of 4 so both played front and back row. I rotated the OHs through all three positions, and had the MBs switch sides.

Those games were generally pretty competitive. Because they were basically played just in one half of the court (though the team of 4 could attack Zone 2 where the setter was defending), at the end I ran a version where we played cross-court attacks. I wasn’t overly pleased with it, though. Need to rethink how that one works for future use.

The players wanted to get in some work on some different things at then end, which led them to basically do serving and passing with a couple of attackers based on who wanted to do what. The serving was a bit less aggressive than earlier, though.

At the end, along with administrative stuff, I talked with the players about bringing the strong serving I’ve seen in the last couple weeks of training into Sunday’s match.

Sunday
Home match against RIG, which is basically the Swedish national volleyball academy – meaning all high school aged players. You may recall we had a couple of them in training with us two weeks back – one of whom is the leading point scorer so far. Coming into the match, they only managed 1 point from their first four matches. They actually hadn’t played a match in the league since October 21st for various reasons.

My philosophy on playing against younger, less experienced teams is that you generally want to try to be as clean on your side of the net as possible. They will tend to be prone to errors and you don’t want to bail them out by making a lot yourself. That said, though, it’s also an opportunity to work on developmental needs. The latter was more my focus going into this match.

Perhaps not surprisingly given we only trained twice on the week and just once as a full group and our starting setter was just back from her injury, our first set was an ugly one. We didn’t pass well. Our serving was mixed. We made a lot of mistakes. It cost us the set. We progressively got better and ended winning comfortably after that, but not without a lot of issues along the way.

Serving was a big frustration. We had 13 aces against 15 errors. That’s not a bad ratio, all in all. The vast majority of those errors were in the net, though, so not positive errors. This after a couple of weeks of pretty good serving in practice.

Thoughts and observations
I really wanted to use Sunday’s match to get some playing time for my bench, but things didn’t quite work out. The did both get in, but not as much as I’d wanted. In part it was because the sets went too fast and my substitution plans never came to fruition.

I had a thought to play the second setter to give the starter a break here and their given her return from injury. The starter, though, was legitimately worried about tightening up if she came out, so I couldn’t really risk it – especially after we lost the first set. Also, her two weeks of not playing or really training until Friday really were obvious. She wasn’t clicking great with the MBs and her accuracy wasn’t there on some of the pin sets. Basically, she needed the reps.

Defense and blocking were better. We ended up with 13 blocks and dug a lot of balls. That contributed to a much improved point scoring percentage – 58% and 60% sideout. Admittedly, though, RIG does not feature quite the offensive capability of other teams we play. They really struggled with our offense as well, as we were close to 50% kills according to the initial cut of the stats (compared to their 31%).

Other stuff
The other results in the league from the weekend were not really surprising. Hylte won to go back top of the table. Our win moves us up into 2nd, and still with matches in-hand against the two teams immediately behind us. Lindesberg beat Gislaved, which likely means the latter is out of contention for a Gran Prix spot now as they’ve already played 7 fixtures and are 5 points adrift of 4th place.

We are back in action a week from Tuesday when we head to Hylte for a big clash.

Coaching Log – Nov 13, 2013

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log.

The team played last year’s league champs at their place not knowing exactly what we were going to see. I’d been told they had a very limited squad in terms of numbers, which proved to be the case. Still, they had a couple useful players, so it wasn’t like a team of scrubs.

The match was a decidedly mixed bag. We won the first set easily, and had a hitting efficiency of over .500. We hit slightly negative after that, though, largely because we weren’t getting enough kills. The opposition gets part of the credit for playing good defense. We loss the second set after falling behind early. I had some concerns about the team’s mentality crumbling during a frustrating stretch. They did enough, though, to claw their way to a win in the deciding set. Winning in this fashion might just be the sort of result that gets them over the mental hump.

Our defense was solid and our serving game created all kinds of problems for the opposition. Unfortunately, we just weren’t able to put that to good use. We couldn’t turn those free balls and down balls in to points, and that’s something we need to fix. Getting faster in the middle and working in some other things for OH and OPP to go more aggressively at the opposition. Unfortunately, we have Student Cup play on Saturday before our next training session on Monday.

Game: Baseball

Synopsis: Also known as softball- this game concentrates on both serve receive and free ball play in a way which has one teams strongly focused on scoring while the other is equally strongly focused on not allowing a point.

Age/Skill Level: This game is suitable for all skill levels.

Requirements: two teams, full court, 6 balls

Execution: This game begins Team A serving to Team B. If Team B fails to win the service rally an out is registered. If Team B wins the rally and gets a point (run). It then receives a free ball. If it wins that rally, it gets another point and receives another free ball. This continues until Team B loses the point, at which stage an out is registered. Team A then serves again. This continues until three outs are made, at which point Team B becomes the serving side. An inning is complete when Team A reaches 3 outs, at which time the teams rotate and a new inning starts. The team with the most runs at the end of six innings wins.

Variations:

  • The game could be played with fewer than 6 players, in which case there would be less than 6 innings, but you could double up to extend the game.
  • To increase focus on winning the serve receive rally you could make that worth more points and/or make a first ball rally win worth extra.
  • Similarly, you could make winning the first ball in a free ball rally worth extra.
  • And of course there’s plenty of room for bonus points if you want to encourage (or discourage) certain things.
  • You can add on an extra inning at the end which pits the best rotation from each team against each other either as a last inning or as some kind of winner take all.

Additional Comments:

  • Since only the team receiving serve can score points (kind of an opposite to sideout) there is the opportunity for that team to be more aggressive than might otherwise be the case. As a result, this can be a good game to use if you want to encourage the players to take chances hitting hard, using new plays, etc.
  • Keep the tempo up by having a new free ball initiated as soon as the rally is dead. This gets players focused on the next play and adds a conditioning element.
  • Consider the impact anything you might do with the serve receive rally to make it more meaningful will have on serving. Certainly if the receivers get more points for winning a first ball, for example, then the servers will quickly realize how penal a missed serve becomes – unless you don’t count that in the scoring structure.
  • If you play this regularly, you’ll want to consider how you set the starting line-ups for each side to either mix up the match-ups for balanced appraisal or to concentrate of certain rotations in different ways (like matching strong vs. weak).
  • This can be a quite helpful game in identifying problem rotations for further concentrated work. Unfortunately, the stronger offensive rotations will tend to get a lot more opportunities in this particular game. On the flip side, from the perspective of the serving team the rotations which struggle to stop points being score will actually tend to get more work.