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Tag Archive for university volleyball

Coaching Log – September 12, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Monday

This was a shortish, fairly technical practice. We talked about stats from the weekend, in particular the comparison of hitting effectiveness of different types of sets (see last week’s post). We also gave them some time to write in the journals their thoughts on our generally poor first sets. The plan was to actually talk about it on Tuesday.

We said this week’s focus is making improvements. The blockers worked on getting better net penetration while the liberos and smaller setters worked on defense. After that we mixed players up in a couple of serve & pass and middle transition stations. The setter-middle connection was a big focus for the week.

Next up was the Continuous Cross-Court Digging drill, which we put in for the first time. We had the players hit, which I also did at Svedala. It would have been better to see some stronger swings, but it was the first time running it, so it was fine. The point was to work on control digs better, especially on balls not hit directly at the player. Player hitting creates a higher degree of randomness.

We finished up with 6 v 6 play, with bonus points for an ace or 1-pass for the serving team, and 3-passes for the receiving team.

Tuesday

First up was a session watching video from the weekend. It was an opportunity to focus on a few things, and for the players to confirm that we just need to be better in certain areas. By that I mean no major overhauls are required to get where we want to go. After that we talked about the slow start issue. The general conclusion seemed to be that the 4 minute and 5 minute pre-game segments aren’t getting the job done. Players aren’t feeling physically ready, and if anything are mentally frazzled. Adjustments will be made.

The biggest single focus of practice was the connection with the middles. We played a couple of games where scoring was driven by effective middle attacks (e.g. bonus points for MB kills). More technically, we did some work on digging balls outside the body line, which is something we identified as an issue over the weekend.

One of the more interesting things we did was a dig-or-die back row game.

Wednesday

The focus on the setter-middle connection remained a theme for this practice. After doing some serving to begin, we once more split the team into stations, with one working on serve & pass and the other working on middle attacks. After that, we repeated the dig-or-die back row game as a prelude to playing 6 v 6.

Our starting OPP has to leave early on Wednesdays, so the first game we played awarded bonus points for right side and in-system back row kills. After that, we repeated Tuesday’s bonus game with respect to middle hitter attacks. In particular, because we wanted to develop the slide, we gave two points for a kill on that set.

Overall, we were quite happy with the middle offense. Our freshman setter took a while to lock in on going for the bonus points, but she eventually got there.

Thursday

We started practice off with some 2-touch games as a warm-up. After that, we progressed to our new pre-match warm-up routine for the 4 minute and 5-minute parts. They still needed to get smoothed out a bit, which we hope would happen during the tournament.

The rest of the session was 6 v 6 game play. First we did a game where they were only allowed to set back row in-system, and only the pins out-of-system. After that, we played 22 v 22, with the rule that if a team won the initial rally via a middle attack they immediately won the big point.

Friday

The day’s first match was against Fort Lewis from the Rocky Mountain Conference. Our focus with the team on getting better starts seemed to help. We didn’t have a perfect first set, but we did win, 25-22. We were behind late in the second, but came back to win 28-26, hitting a solid .298 with 20 kills. Fort Lewis failed to recover and we jumped out to a big lead in the third. A slip in focus toward the end, though, allowed them to narrow the gap some, but we still won 25-20. Serving in the match was very solid. We only had 3 aces, while missing 11, but put the opposition out-of-system consistently.

The second match of the day was against Dallas Baptist from the Heartland Conference. This was the team, going in, we thought would be our strongest competition. On the day, at least, they probably were the better of the two teams. We rolled out to a pretty easy first set win, 25-16, keeping DBU to -.050 hitting. There was a LONG officials delay at the start of the second set, which may have impacted our performance somewhat. Things got a bit sloppy and we ended up losing 21-25. Things turned around in the third, though it was still tight. We managed a 25-22 win. Our serve was really on form in the fourth set, and we rolled to a pretty easy 25-19 win.

Saturday

The first match of the day was against  St. Edwards from the Heartland Conference. Unfortunately, this was not a good match. We didn’t come out well. It was quite a bit like last weekend in terms of passing poorly and making a lot of mistakes. We managed only six kills in the first set, against seven hitting errors. Things improved dramatically after that. We won the second set, but it remained a struggle the rest of the way and we lost in four.

Our final tournament match was vs. Southeastern Oklahoma State from the Great American Conference. In stark contrast to the first match, we jumped on this team with a relentless assault from the start, hitting .438 in the first set with 19 kills. Things cooled off considerably in the second set, but our block/defense kicked in to allow us to win. The offense returned to form in the third with even better defense, and we won going away.

Observations

The Rocky Mountain and Heartland Conferences are both part of the Division II South Central Region. That also includes the Lone Star Conference, which is the one we play in. That means our matches against those teams counted toward our regional rankings. At this writing, the first set of regional rankings for the year have not been posted. They will eventually be updated here.

We didn’t really do much in the way of video prep for this tournament. We showed the setters some footage of three teams, but that was it. We’ll do more moving forward.

All in all, it was a good tournament in terms of our development. In particular, the middle attack was much improved. It’s a long way from being where we want it to be, but the progress was clearly evident.

That’s it for the pre-conference action. Now on to Lone Start Conference play!

Coaching Log – September 5, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Preseason has ended. School’s started. Now the real fun begins!

Monday

We started by getting the players to think about their own personal objectives and values. This will feed into the goal setting they do in conjunction with their upcoming individual meetings.

Practice began with a 4 v 4 cooperative downball, then jumping attack, drill. That was followed by target serving, after which we split the primary passers and the setters and MBs. The former did serving and passing with a specific focus on seam management. The latter focused on transition patterns for the middles.

We went on from there into a couple of 6 v 6 games. The first continued work on transition play. One team was given a pair of free balls to initiate a controlled attack to the other side (diggable balls). That was followed by a serve by the attack-receiving team. We kept track of how many off the attack-receive points were won by that team. If they then won the serve rally they would get that rally point, plus the other points. Otherwise, they got zero. That means they could earn between 0 and 3 points. After the serve rally the sequence was repeated for the other side, then both teams rotated. We played to 15.

The other 6 v 6 game was a standard one, but with a bonus. We gave them 3 points for winning a rally lasting at least 4 trips of the ball across the net. Unfortunately, only one rally went long enough for a bonus. It was a really good one, though.

Tuesday

We started with narrow court cooperative 2 v 2. There were four players on each side which swapped in and out each time the ball crossed the net. The first objective was 8 consecutive balls back and forth with good 3-touch execution, finishing with a down ball. They then moved up to doing 6 reps with a jump-and-swing.

From there we progressed to competitive 4 v 4 play – still narrow court.

Next was 5 v 5 v 5. One team of 5 served both sides. They got a point for aces and 1-passes, but lost points on missed serves. The other teams set up with 3 back row players and two front row. Initially, that was MB + RS vs. MB + OH, but we did a second round with just pin hitters. The two teams on-court earned points from rally wins, and the winning team received the next serve. The teams rotated through and cumulative points were kept.

From there we shifted to 6 v 6, using a version of bingo. Each team had two ways to score bingo points, which we changed halfway through the game. We kept two scores – one for bingo points, the other for normal rally points. The latter defined game length. The most combined points won.

The next game was 6 v Sixes. That’s where one side is fixed and receives every serve. The other side rotates players through on each new serve, based on the server’s position. That was played for time before mixing up the players on the fixed side.

Lastly we played dig-or-die. That’s game where points are scored in normally fashion, but if a team fails to at least touch a defensive or hitter coverage ball, they lose all their points. Rallies start by alternating down balls over the net. A front row/back row switch is made about halfway through.

Wednesday

We started practice by going through our pregame warm-up routine. We’ve done this a couple times now, but just wanted to make sure things go as smoothly as possible come Friday’s first official matches. Of course, the pregame warm-up is rather long, which means it ate into practice time. We played 6 v 6 almost the whole rest of the session, though.

In a continuation from what started on Tuesday, we shuffled around variations of what might be the weekend starters. I kept hitting stats to look both at individual hitter performance and to take a collective view with respect to setters.

Thursday

We traveled to Topeka, KS for our first road trip of the season. After a quick meal upon arrival in town, we had an hour long court session at hosts Washburn University. Unfortunately, one of our players got an ankle injury during the session. That’s the first of the year, so far.

Friday

Our first match of the day was against Pittsurg State from the MIAA. They were second from bottom last year, so not the strongest of opposition. We got off to a slow start, losing 25-18. We made a personnel adjustment at outside hitter going into the second set, and proceeded to win the next three sets rather easily: 14, 13, and 15. After a very weak start, our offense came on very strongly, with a hitting efficiency in the last two sets about .400.

The day’s second match was against hosts Washburn, who finished 4th in the MIAA last season and ended the year #18 ranked. This year they start #16 in the polls. In other words, a tough match. The first set reminded me of the Exeter women against Northumbria in the 2014 BUCS semifinals. We just got totally blitzed, 25-6.

The players recovered well, though. They were more aggressive and confident, in particular in serve. We didn’t get any aces, but we went from serving 1.2 in the first set to serving just shy of 2.0 in the latter two. It totally changed the complexion of the match. Washburn still won in three, but the last two sets were 25-19 and 25-23. We could have actually won the third. We went from hitting -.217 to .297 to .361 while taking them from .625 to .314 to .135. The loss of the third was probably because we had a few too many service errors (7).

Saturday

It was an early start, with our first match at 9:30 against Emporia State. They finished #8 in the MIAA last season. We felt we could win this one based on what we saw the day before. Our start was poor, however. We didn’t pass well at all in the first two sets (both below 1.8), so of course we didn’t hit well either. In the second set we were only 24% in sideout. The result was a pair of losses, 25-17 and 25-13.

We swapped setters for the third to give our freshman a chance. Things turned around from there. We won the next two sets fairly easily, 25-16 and 25-19. Unfortunately, we struggled a bit in the 5th, and lost 15-10.

The final match was against Missouri Western, who finished 5th in the MIAA last season. They are a solid team (received votes in the Coaches Poll), though not quite at Washburn’s level. We returned to the prior starting setter to begin, but once more suffered from a poor first set. After that, we put the freshman back in. We didn’t serve nearly aggressively enough in either set. As a result, they sided-out easily. It was 93% in the second set! We lost the first two 15 and 14.

Serving was much better in the third set. Our defense and block performed much better as a result. We still lost the third, 25-23, though, because of a few too many attack errors.

Observations

First let me talk about the competitive level. Obviously, we will not really focus on stuff like RPI this year as we rebuild the MSU team. Still, four matches against teams in a strong conference (4 teams currently ranked, and one just outside the Top 25) can’t help but provide an RPI boost. That’s unlikely to impact us at all in terms of this year’s post-season. A year-over-year rise in the overall rankings is the sort of thing external evaluators like to see.

Now to talk about the offense. One of the major observations on Friday was the massive difference in performance between when we spread the attack and when we did not. In both matches the vast majority of balls in the first set went to the outside. Not surprisingly, they struggled to be effective. Once we shared the ball around better, the OHs were much more successful.

Our biggest offensive issue was in the middle. At times it went well, but too often the connects were just off. Some of it was hitters not going fast enough. Some of it was inaccurate sets. Slides, in particular, were just not on at all. This will need work.

We also needed to get the right side more involved on Saturday.

Passing wasn’t bad overall for the tournament, but especially on Saturday we had too many 2-passes an not enough 3s. Defense was solid when we got teams out of system, though we need to do better digging harder balls outside our body line.

Bottom line is we got exactly what you hope to get out of your first tournament – to try a few things, see how the team performs in different situations, and get a clearer view of your developmental needs. Importantly, I think the team saw what sort of things they need to do to be successful. Now we just have to reinforce that.

Coaching Log – August 29, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Monday

The day started with weight training.

Our theme for the day was block/defense. Specifically, we wanted the players reading, reacting, and going for the ball.

The morning session started with cooperative cross-court hitting. That progressed to backrow 4s played Speedball fashion. We then had them do some target serving for the first time, after which the passers did a sever & pass session while the MBs and setters worked on their connection. Next was some hitters vs. blockers. We finished with two games. One was an out-of-system game where we had two pin blockers in 2 and 4 on each side, plus back row players in 1 and 5. Sets had to go to the pins, so there was always a firm double block. We finished up with 6 v 6 having each side serve 3 balls before rotating. A team got a bonus point for a first ball sideout.

As has been typical, we did a lot of game play in the second session. We did, however, have one servers vs passers game where we focused the camera on the passers for instant feedback.

The day ended with a team discussion about season goals. They came up with a group of outcome goals (where we ended the season), as well as several process goals (things we will do along the way to get there).

Tuesday

We started the morning session off with a serving warm-up and then some zonal target work. After that, they played a competitive version of the cross-court hitting drill. We did some servers vs. passers games, and also a Neville Pepper like game where the fixed team tried to score via back row attacks. It probably wasn’t the best way we could have done that, all things considered.

We did a pair of 6 v 6 games to finish. The first used a combination of normal rally scoring and points for passes. Teams earned points for winning rallies, as usual. They also earned points for serve reception passes – 2 for a 3 pass, 1 for a 2 pass. He’s the catch. If they were aced, their accumulated pass points went back to zero. The game was played to 25. The final game featured bonus points for digs (or free/down ball passes) to target.

Between sessions we had Picture Day. Yay!

Our afternoon session was a somewhat shortened one. We had the players play Brazilian 2-Ball tennis (something my Svedala team did regularly), then had a Servers vs. Passers game. That was followed by an out-of-system game. We finished up playing an old-school sideout scoring game to 15 to put a bit of onus on siding out.

The day ended with a Fall Sports Kick-off event which combined volleyball with the two soccer teams.

Wednesday

The day started with weight training. We had no morning training as the team did some youth work in the community. In the afternoon we scrimmaged at a local junior college. Not surprisingly, the results were mixed given it was our first external competition and we used a variety of line-ups. The teams split the four sets played, though we held the edge in points.

On the plus side, our serve reception was solid. It wasn’t the 2.3 the team targeted as their goal, but it was a respectable 2.15. And it was consistent. I think only one of our primary passers was below 2.0, and even then just barely. To be fair, the other team didn’t serve all that aggressively, though they were solid in terms of targeting.

In the mixed category was our offense. The sets to the MBs were a bit erratic in height and tempo, though we still high for a high efficiency. Over all we were at about 40% kills, which is good, but were were also at about 20% errors, which is not so great. Some of that was poor decision-making, but some of it was just being aggressive. We’ll take that as this stage. Actually, the fourth set really pulled the hitting numbers up. In Set 1 we hit about .125. It was a little over .200 in Set 2, then dipped back down to about .165 in the third. In the last set we were just shy of .400. Overall, one of our OHs hit .400 for the match, which is great. We also ran an effective back row attack.

In the could be better category was our defense. Mainly, that was about block placement and reading/anticipation. Things, especially in terms of the block, got better as the match progressed. We need to get much better in picking up the cues from the other side of the net and adjusting, though.

Thursday

We started the morning session with a discussion of the Wednesday match. We wanted to see how the players felt they did, not just in terms of their play, but also in terms of the off-court attitude and energy. Of course we also talked about taking what we learned and moving forward.

The session itself had reading and anticipation of the main themes. We used Brazilian 2-ball once more as a first warm-up activity. After that, it was some target serving. Then we split into two groups. I took the setters and middles to work on slide and 1-ball connections, which were an issue in the scrimmage. The rest did serving & passing games. They then played back court 2 v 2 (half court – 8 simultaneous games). After that it was 6 v 6. First, we played a game where one side was only allowed 2 contacts (3 if it was a really scramble) to increase the speed at which balls came back at the 3-touch side and to encourage more anticipation. We finished with a straight 15-point game.

The afternoon session started with work on our pre-match warm-up routine. We did part of it before Wednesday’s scrimmage, but wanted to smooth out the rough spots in especially the full court portion (NCAA women do a 4-4-5-5-1 protocol). After that it was all game play. We repeated the 2-contact game from the morning with a change in it’s structure. I like the effect it seemed to have on getting the team to read better and anticipate more. We’ll probably keep doing it.

We also did a kind of controlled entry initiation game. The idea was to replace coaches on boxes hitting at players to start transition play with live hitters to make things more game-like. It’s something we need to iron out a little bit, but it could be be useful to work on transition play. We ended with a normal game to 25.

Friday

The day started with weight training once more.

The first session was a little slow in the early phases. We had them do some short-court games to start, then shifted to doing a bit of technical work on blocking. The main focus there was wing blocker positioning. Competitive cross-court hitting was next to bring in game play, and that progressed into some offense vs. defense. We finished with a regular game, but with the players getting whistled for not getting to defensive base, leaving too early, and/or failing to cover their hitters.

The final session of pre-season was all about competition. We put the players into two teams and played a series of games (though the three middles shuffled around, as we’ve had them do the whole time).

Saturday

No training. The players had to attend mandatory Life Skills sessions during the evening.

Sunday

Off day.

Observations

I think overall we’ve been pretty pleased with how things have gone up to now. There was a little bit of an internal conflict flare up midweek related to playing time and fitness tests, but it seems to have been smoothed out. The group ended the week full of energy and positivity. Obviously, we’re a long way from where we want to be. There are a lot of rough patches in our play that need to be sanded down, which is to be expected in what is still a pretty young team. We can see the glimpses of what we’re capable of, though, and some of it is really exciting.

Coaching Log – August 22, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

This probably won’t be the most detailed of weekly entries. Normally, I’d be filling in my thoughts and observations as the week went along, but all my spare time last week was taken up watching Olympic volleyball!

Our general schedule on training days was to have one session in the morning that finished at 11:00, with a second in the afternoon finishing no later than 5:00. Start and stop times varied from day to day based on what we were doing and how long we planned to run the sessions.

NCAA Division II rules permit no more than 6 hours of activity per day, with at least three hours break between physical sessions. Additionally, you are allowed only 5 hours of physical activity.

Sunday

This was basically a meeting day. We met with the team for about 2 hours to start the process of defining the program and team identity. It was a process we coaches guided via the questions we asked. Beyond that, however, it was the players doing the thinking and talking. The players were broken up into groups of three, then brought back together to share what they talked about.

We went from the meeting to dinner at the house of a local player. Then it was back to campus for the players’ Compliance meeting. After that, they picked up their practice gear.

Monday

The day started with a fitness test – the first part of a 3-part test. This part was the suicide test. Players had to run 5 total suicides with a minute’s break between the two. The objective was to run the first in under 23 seconds, the second in under 24, and the final three in under 25. A player was considered to have passed if their total time was no more than one second over the total allowed time.

Our morning session focused on game play. We did a series of small-sided games to give the players a chance to start the process of working together. It was also a chance for use to do some initial evaluations.

In the afternoon session we started to work on skills – in particular serving and passing.

After the afternoon session we spent about 30 minutes continuing Sunday’s work on team culture.

Tuesday

This day the players did the second of their fitness test parts. This one was a three element jump-rope exercise. The requirement was to do 155 rope skips in a minute. They also had to do 55 cross jumps. Those are ones where you cross your arms over in front of you (left hand on right side, right hand on left side). The final element was 30 double-unders where the player spun the rope under their feet twice on one jump.

Our strength coach introduced the players to a set of pre-hab exercises to be done once or twice a week. The different positions were provided with their own plans.

We had the setters and liberos/DS’s come in early for the morning session to work on individual skills. I ran the setters. My main focus was to take a look at their mechanics and start the process of making corrections where necessary. Later in the day we put the setters together with the OHs to work on the tempo of the outside sets.

The rest of the day was spent working more on individual skills in the morning, and more team stuff in the afternoon. Competitive opportunities were incorporated throughout, however. They came either through competitive drills like servers vs. passers, or via actual games.

Wednesday

This day started with the last part of the fitness test, which was the timed mile run. The objective was 7 minutes. The players were allowed to run it either outside (2 laps around the building) or inside (11 laps around the coliseum stands).

One of the things we identified as a developmental need in the team was being more intentional on first ball contact. To help with that we played a 2-touch game with four players a side. It seemed to have a real impact.

This day we also spent time with the setters and MBs working together on middle sets. There was more serving and passing, of course, to include taking passing stats throughout. As in prior days, lots of competitive opportunities.

In the evening we had a team dinner hosted by a local friend of the program. She had the players watch the following video, with a bit of a discussion afterwards.

Thursday

Not surprisingly, there were some heavy legs and tired bodies for the morning session. Focus was a bit of a struggle for at least a handful of players during the first half of the practice when the tempo was a bit slower. That mostly picked up as things got more game oriented and up-tempo, though.

We continued working on serving and passing, naturally. Our defensive focus increased this day as well. That included blocking, which we’d started working in prior days.

We also worked on hitters attacking the block. This was mainly done via a game where we used extra antennae to create outside attacking zones. Points could only be scored through them.

We gave the players an extra hour between sessions this day, then spent nearly the whole afternoon session in 6 v 6 play.

Again, we spent about 30 minutes continuing our cultural work. That basically wrapped up what we wanted to do in terms of the broader themes.

Friday

The day started with the first weight training session of the year.

The MBs and setters got to do some work together again in the morning session, while the rest worked on serving and passing. This time the focus was mainly on transition attacking.

Another thing we worked on collectively was running faster back row attacks. Importantly, we also worked on running back row attacks only in-system and forcing the ball to the pins when out-of-system.

We continued to collect passing stats off serve reception. On this particular day, however, we encouraged more aggressive serving by allowing players to re-serve if they missed their first attempt. This looked to have a very meaningful negative impact on the passing numbers. Obviously, from a serving perspective that’s exactly the point.

Saturday & Sunday

Days off.

Observations

The first week with a team is always a mixed bag. Some things are better than expected. Some are worse. We were pretty happy with the general level the players were at in terms of their play. That reflects, I’m sure, the fact that many of them were in the area over the Summer, getting some playing time in together. They did a lot of small-sided game type stuff, as far as we were aware.

Of course when you play mainly 3 v 3 and 4 v 4 then the nuances and higher precision of 6 v 6 play won’t be there. Not surprisingly, that’s what we saw.

There are plenty of things we need to work on and sharpen up. We’re in the process of looking at our priorities and seeing where we want to focus our primary efforts. One of the things we’re really pleased with, though, is how competitive the group is. They love to play and they love to compete!

College volleyball outside the USA

In the U.S. college volleyball is a pretty big thing. As I show in this post, the number of schools with varsity teams approaches 2000. The vast majority are women’s teams. These numbers don’t include school club teams. There are hundreds of those as well.

For none American readers, a varsity team is one administered by the school. It’s budget is part of the Athletics budget. A club team, in contrast, is student run. They might get some funding support – often through something like the school’s recreational program – but otherwise they are self-funded and self-managed.

College volleyball outside the U.S.

In Europe and elsewhere there are also college (university) teams. They follow a primarily club structure, however. It’s much like the one US college club teams use.

Let me use the University of Exeter (U.K.) as an example.

When I coached at Exeter the club comprised of something like 120 members. It had a board lead by a pair of Club Captains. All board positions were elected annually, toward the end of the Spring term. Members of the club paid an annual fee, part of which went to the Athletic Union (AU) to cover administrative and facilities costs.

Think of the AU as the Recreation Department for the school. It oversees all sports clubs, manages facilities scheduling, and ensures clubs stay within their budgets. The AU also manages the clubs’ relationship with BUCS, the rough U.K. equivalent of the NCAA. Actually, it’s probably closer to the NAIA in terms of its rule set.

The Exeter volleyball club featured three levels of participation. At the top were the teams playing in BUCS competition. In my last two seasons there we had two each for the men and women. Those teams also played in regional adult club tournaments, and some individual players played on higher level National League (NVL) teams.

Below the BUCS teams were the Intermediates. They played in an Exeter city league. There was also a Beginners group run entirely in-house.

All three levels had weekly training sessions.

Very loose rules

I mentioned above that the BUCS rules are probably closer to NAIA than NCAA. The bottom line is there aren’t a lot of rules. Pretty much as long as you’re a registered full-time student at the school you’re eligible to play for the team. Doesn’t matter whether you’re brand new to the sport or have played professionally.

There also aren’t any sorts of limits on training/playing hours. Nor are there differences between what you can do in-season and out-of-season.

Really, the focus of the BUCS rule book is on scheduling and competition. Everything else is at the discretion of the universities and the clubs.

Multi-national competition

Recently, one of the top U.K. college programs – Northumbria – competed in the European University Games (EUG). There’s a short write-up about how their men and women did here. The 2016 Games took place in Croatia and featured university teams from some interesting places. I count 13 different nations on the men’s side and also 13 on the women’s side, though not all the same. Not surprisingly, the host country had more entries than most. Overall, though, Germany was tops in terms of team count.

One can’t help but wonder how a U.S. college team would do in this kind of competition. The European teams would almost certainly have more experience given the inclusion of older players. The U.S. teams, though, would very likely have more in the way of resources and support.

As and aside, I saw that the University of Split was one of the entries on the men’s side. I’ve been to Split and really liked it. Wouldn’t mind coaching there. 😉

Coaching Log – August 12, 2016

This is the first entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2016-17 school year at Midwestern State University. The players officially report tomorrow, though they have all been around for most of the last week. Many of them were here most or all of the Summer, during which time they worked with our strength coach.

My last log entry came back at the beginning of May, shortly after we finished Spring practices. The end of our time in the gym did not mean the end of the work, though! In this post I will share with you some of what I’ve been doing over the last three months. I figure it might be of interest to those who don’t have college coaching experience.

From here on out I’ll probably just do weekly log entries. Doing them daily would be a bit much. As with my Svedala log, I’ll think posting them on Monday after the weekend’s matches makes the most sense.

Recruiting

I mentioned in my last entry that we had six prospective recruits on campus during our last week of Spring practices, and that one of them in the 2017 class committed. Three others committed in the weeks following. These are verbal commitments. Nothing official can be done until November.

My only recruiting trip during the last three or so months was to the North Texas regional bid qualifiers in the Dallas area. We were still looking for a strong OH in the 2017 class, so I watched that group in the 17s qualifier. Then I spent a day looking at 2018s in the 16s qualifier to start ramping things up in that class.

We have a couple of players we’re talking with to round out the 2017 class. We’ve also had some issues develop with a couple of those who already committed.

Camps & Clinics

We ran three MSU-linked programs.

The first was what we called an academy program that was run with a fundraising focus (though the coaches working it were paid). Basically, it was a clinic series that went 1.5 hours a session, three nights a week for four weeks. It ended up being mainly attended by 11-14 year-olds.

We also ran two camps. They were both 3-day commuter deals (not overnight). The first was for pre-high school ages, with the second for high school players. We didn’t really have it initially in mind to make the latter a recruiting camp, but it kind of worked out that way. Our three incoming freshmen all attended, as did three of our four committed 2017 players, along with a handful of other potential recruits. That made for one pretty good court and one with a much lower standard. We’ve already started talking about how we might adjust things for next year.

Sitting Volleyball

It’s worth mentioning that we had several members of the USA sitting volleyball program at our first camp for the afternoon session of the first day. It was something I arranged with the North Texas region. They gave a demonstration, taught some skills, got the kids playing, and generally made it a great experience. We invited some of the area high schools and folks from outside the university (I called the local VA clinic).

Planning a foreign trip

Since we expect to have a strong incoming freshman class next year to go along with what should be a group of returning players capable of having a good season, we decided to try to do an overseas trip next Summer. Including the freshmen requires working around NCAA restrictions, but it looks doable.

As much as I am always up for a trip to Europe, that isn’t a realistic option for us. Too expensive, especially that time of year. Plus, the big time change is problematic when you’re talking about a trip that probably at least overlaps with our preseason – meaning it would be very close to the start of our season. Jet-lagged players would not be a good thing.

On top of that, we decided to take more of a training camp approach. By that I mean staying in one place rather than doing a tour. That reduces the amount of travel and bouncing around. Not only does that add a bunch of logistical stress, but it also means more fatigued players.

So what did we decide?

Since I have coaching friends with lots of contacts there, I suggested Buenos Aires. The head coach really likes that idea. If we can go and stay in one place and make arrangements with local clubs to train and compete, we don’t need a tour company. That will save a bunch of money.

I wrote up a proposal for the trip to go to the Athletic Director. In it I figured we would be looking at a cost of somewhere around $2000 per person. Now we need to get that fund raised!

Season prep

Of course, no Summer goes by in college volleyball that doesn’t include a lot of administrative work to get ready for the upcoming season. Our schedule was mostly set, but there were some little tweaks, and refs had to be confirmed. We had to arrange hotels and put in travel authorization requests. And we had to make sure the incoming players took care of all their academic and medical requirements.

A bit broader, we also did a lot of thinking and planning about things around the team. I’m talking about community outreach and developing support for the program. Of course, that’s an on-going thing. We did, though, need to put some plans in place for events and activities during the season.

High School kick-off event

The local area high schools started their competitive season on Tuesday. Some of the local area coaches are MSU alumnae, and the idea got put forward to host several matches in our gym as a fundraiser. We would get the gate receipts and concessions.

We ended up hosting a total of 11 matches between our two gyms. Two were freshmen, two were junior varsity, and the rest varsity. I think in total 10 schools attended.

It ended up being a long day, but it went quite well. There was some grumbling about ticket prices (which we didn’t even set), but it sounds like otherwise people really thought it was a good event – including the local media. There’s talk about making this an annual thing. And we managed to raise a chunk of money.

Thinking about the team

From a volleyball perspective, probably our biggest single effort went into evaluating and updating the team handbook. Part of that was going through what we want to do in terms of systems of play. We didn’t really need to make a lot of changes there.

The bigger thing was looking at the culture side of things. We did a lot of talking and planning in that area. Developing a championship culture at MSU is very much a work in progress. The head coach is only going into her second season here and it’s been a long time since the program had a winning record. Last year they went 0-16 in conference.

We saw a lot of growth in the Spring. The team will definitely be better this season. I believe they had 19 on the initial roster last year. There were only 16 on the season-ending roster, so already the process of weeding out those who didn’t fit with the new attitude had begun (2 quit, 1 cut). Since then, one graduated and six others won’t return.

That means we have nine returning players. Of that group two were on red shirts last year and one was sitting out a mandatory year following her transfer, so only six have played for the current head coach. Among that group only five played in more than half the team’s sets 2015.

We’re adding two former players back to the roster. One was a 2-year starter before leaving the team (she’s back as a grad student). The other was on the team in 2014, but not in 2015. A freshman JUCO transfer joined during the Spring. Plug in the three incoming freshmen and you’re up to 15.

Getting the picture as to why we think we need to dedicate a lot of focus on developing the right team culture?

By the way, continuing the culture development process is part of the motivation for the foreign trip mentioned above.

Journal book

The head coach had the team do some journaling last year, but wanted to make it better this time around. In the end, we decided to combine the team handbook with the journal. The new spiral bound book we put together includes a section on the team rules and stuff. It also features an area where the players can write things down related to team and personal goals, etc.

The bulk of the book, though, is pages for daily and weekly journal entries. There are also pages for writing down scouting report info and notes. I’m curious to see how it gets used.

Coaching Log – May 2, 2016

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

Monday
The main gym was still not put back after the banquet, so we were once more in the secondary one. There were still three players out due to injuries, but we had a recruit on campus (was supposed to be two, but the other got sick) as well as a former member of the team from a couple seasons ago.

We started off with a series of games with the team split in half. It was basically a progression of 1 v 1 and 1-touch to 2 v 2 and 2-touch to 3 v 3 and 3-touch. The players rotated each time they sent the ball over the net. We finished that sequence with 4 v 4 back row (fixed setters, other rotating out after hitting) where you could only score earned points.

After that we split them up to have one group working on defense and the other doing some technical serving work focused on toss and contact. From there we progressed to a serve receive offense drill where the attackers on the receiving team had to get at least 5 balls to a target zone in a given time period.

We finished up with 6 v 6 that was a wash type game. This one was all based on serve reception. Basically, a team had to win two reception rallies in a row to earn a point. If, however, they passed perfectly and got the kill on the first serve, they earned the point straight way without having to do the second ball. Winning a rally earned the right to receive serve.

Tuesday
We actually reverted back to small-group sessions for this day. In the first one we had our setter, a defender, and two middles. Each group worked on their own specific needs (setting, passing, and blocking respectively). The second group featured two defenders and two net players, so it was serving and passing for the former, and again blocking for the latter.

This was the first time in a while that we were able to really have the staff closely working with only 1-2 players at a time. Lots of feedback. My personal focus was on setting in the first group and serving in the second.

Wednesday
Back to the team training, though we continued along with Tuesday’s themes in that we dedicated a lot of focus on passing, blocking, and setting with regards to feedback. We did some breakout worth with blocking on one court and passing on the other. After that, we brought them together to work on things in a unified fashion, during which I continued to work with the setter – primarily on her positioning.

Thursday
We had two prospective recruits in the session with us. It ended up being a pretty intense, up-tempo practice. We started off with a sequence of small-sided games that eventually became a type of back court attack Winners 4s. We sandwiched rounds of servers vs. passers games around a narrow court version of Winners 4s with fixed setters and MBs.

The last part of the session was 6 v 6 play in a kind of modified version of 22 v 22. In this case we designated a position to be the point scoring hitter (e.g. MB). If that player got a kill on a first ball (receive ball or dug ball), the team automatically got the big point. Otherwise, the team winning the initial rally received down balls until either the designated scorer got a kill or they lost the rally. That means a team could receive multiple down balls.

The idea behind this game was to stimulate a couple of different things. Obviously, the first is getting the defending team to think about the degree to which they want to commit their block to the designated hitter. Another is the setter decision-making process in terms of knowing when to set that hitter and when they’d be better off going to someone else. Finally, it puts that hitter in a position of having to beat a team that knows they’re getting the ball.

Friday
We had a second pair of prospective recruits in this session. Again, game play was heavily featured. It started with a 4 v 4 back row game with fixed setters and rotating back court players. Again, servers vs passer games were mixed in to slow things down a bit.

The main feature was a variation on the game Baseball. In this case we retained the designated hitter idea from Thursday, with a twist. For the first time a team received free/down balls (meaning they won the serve receive rally) they could only score “runs” if the MB got a kill. Otherwise it was wash. The second time the designated hitter was the OPP, while the third was the OH.

Note that in this approach the OH probably will not be the designated hitter very often because in order for them to be the team would have had to win all three serve receive balls. That tends not to happen very much. So if you want the OHs getting the ball most, you’d want to put them first instead of the MBs.

Additional Notes
This was a busy week on the recruiting front with 6 prospects visiting campus following on from having spent last weekend evaluating players at the Lone Star qualifier tournament. We needed to squeeze them in because this was our final week of Spring training. Along the way we got our first commitment for the 2017 class.

Since we won’t be back in the gym until August, this will be the last of my updates for this academic year. I’ll start a new log for the 2016-17 cycle when we bring the players together once more for pre-season.

Coaching Log – Apr 25, 2016

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

Monday
Because most of the staff was coaching their club teams at the Lone Star tournament, we didn’t have practice.

Tuesday
We took the team out to the sand court again. This time there was more of practice type focus in terms of doing some drills to work on ball control type activities – mainly in terms of serving and attacking. We wanted a little more focus than we had last time out. We did play some 2 v 2 + setter games at the end, though.

Wednesday
We were forced into the secondary gym because on Tuesday they started setting things up in the main gym for Thursday night’s sports banquet, which won’t get broken down again until Monday.

We started off with a variation on the cooperative cross-court hitting drill (team pepper). Previously, we started with them attacking through 4 and then switching to attacking through 2 with the objective of getting 5 consecutive dig-set-hit sequences in each configuration without stopping through the transition. This time we had them do a line-line version, so attacking through 4 and 2 and then 2 and 4. They were given 8 minutes to finish, which they did managed to do – just.

After that we did Run & Serve for the first time. We said they needed to get all the serves into the last 2 meters of the court and allowed for one missed serve by the group. It took them two times through to finish. Our thought for the next time is to exclude Zone 6, so force them to serve corners.

From there we moved to a servers vs. offense game which was an extension of the servers vs passers game we’ve been playing. This time we incorporated attacking. The receiving side earned a point if they got a good kill past the block (hard hit ball), and 2 points of they got a block-out kill. The servers earned a point for a 1 or overpass and 2 points for an ace. The receiving team was also given a point if the servers missed in the net or missed back-to-back (but not if they missed long or wide). Games were played to 15. The servers won each time, but the games were generally fairly close.

We finished up with a series of 5 v 5 games. Each side had a setter and MB at the net, and three back row players. Only earned points counted (ace, kill, block), but we subtracted a point on hitter errors in the net. Games were played to 8.

Although we normally go 2 hours, we decided to cut things short at about 90 minutes. We’d done all we planned and liked how the last couple of mini games went.

There was an assistant coaches meeting scheduled at 8:00, which I’d completely forgot about. We remembered right at the end of practice (just after 8:00), so I was late for what was only a 20-minute get-together. Whoops!

Thursday
No practice today as there was the sports banquet. Only the head coach attended out of the staff as the rest of us were involved in the USA Volleyball High Performance try-out that evening in Dallas. This was the second try-out for us having done the one the prior Friday as well. The first one, though, was mainly young kids. This second group featured more kids of recruiting age.

Friday
I ran this session as the head coach was in Dallas for a combination of recruiting and club coaching at Lone Star. We only had seven healthy bodies, but there were a couple of assistants available to jump in. The intended main focus was on blocking and defensive intensity.  Because the main gym was still set up from the banquet the night before, we were in the secondary gym.

We started of with over the net pepper in groups of 3 and 4. After that, I had them doing a serving warm-up, then worked on some tough serving. They had to get +10, with a good strong serve being +1. If they missed a serve they would re-serve. If that serve was good, then it was a wash. If they missed the second, it was -1. I had it go for time.

Honestly, I’m kind of blanking on the rest. I know we did a 4 v 4 at the end where one side had a setter in 1, RS in 2, MB in 3, and a defender in 6, with the other side having a setter in 1, MB in 3, OH in 4, and defender in 5. We played 22 v 22 with serving done only into half the court. The players were pretty gassed at the end, and we only ended up going about 90 minutes.

Weekend
I spent Friday afternoon through to Sunday afternoon in Dallas recruiting at Lone Star.

Coaching Log – Apr 18, 2016

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

Monday
This week’s Monday morning was a bit better than last week’s. At least the player didn’t seem to be a leg-weary as they were. The head coach did need to “remind them” that we don’t let balls drop uncontested in our gym early on when we had them playing some 2 v 2 2-touch games.

From there we split them up between serve reception on one court and more blocking work on the other. In the latter case the focus was block penetration, with use of an elastic.

Some target serving followed, working on deep corners. We then did the Hard Drill on each court to work on multiple elements – defense against back attacks, being intelligent in bad-ball situations, staying aggressive under pressure, etc.

The remainder of practice was 6 rotations worth of a 6-v-6 drill where the serving team had to register three straight points. We called serves missed long or wide as washes, but a serve in the net sent the team back to 0. Each team had a turn passing and serving. Afterwards we talked about amping the drill up a bit by may be making it first-to-3 so either team could “win”.

Tuesday
No practice sessions today. Instead we had two groups of player in to watch video from the weekend for about an hour. A lot of the focus ended up being on defensive positioning and movement. We also briefly met with the team at the end of the day before they did a group activity together. At that point we basically progressed the team chemistry development process in the direction of accountability.

Wednesday
Illness and injury had us down a couple of bodies in this session, then we lost another one as part of a collision during the first half to bring us down to only eight. It ended up being a challenging session from a frustration perspective. This was largely driven by a couple of cooperative drills where the team (or groups) had consecutive sequence targets.

The first was a simple 3-person over the net pepper. We gave them a target of 10 straight dig-set-hit sequences, allowing them to hold their count level if they couldn’t get a good sequence, but kept the ball in play. This was in 3 groups on one court. That obviously creates issues due to the small space, but the bigger issue was simple lack of clean execution. By the point when we called time, one group had managed 5 and the other two 4.

After doing some serving and passing, we did the other cooperative drill, which was basically an out-of-system focused activity. This one was a 4-corner set-up with players in 1, 2, 4, and 5 on each side. Balls had to be attacked cross-court. If the ball was dug by the back row player, the other back row player had to set the ball (to either pin hitter). If the front row player dug the ball, either back row player could set.

The goal was 8 consecutive good sequences. It took probably close to half and hour. At one point relatively early on when it was clear they were struggling I brought them in to get them thinking about how communication could make it better. Later on we had them take a team timeout.

At noon we had two players who couldn’t make the video sessions on Tuesday in for their own session.

Thursday
We gave the team the morning off from lifting as a break from the early wake-ups and because there are a few banged-up bodies. For afternoon team practice we took them out on the sand court at a local school. Basically, they just played games. It was rough going at the start as some of them clearly had little to no sand experience. By the end, though, they were starting to have some pretty good rallies.

Friday
We tried a variation on volley tennis to start this practice. Basically, it was 2 people on court on each side, with one ball in play as opposed to the two balls from the Brazilian variation we did before. Instead we had one player on each side holding a ball which they had to pass to their partner if they were going to play the ball coming over from the other side. Some refer to this as “don’t drop the baby”. We found, though, that by the end both sides had adopted a strategy of one person holding the “baby” while the other ran around the court playing the ball. So it became pretty much 1 v 1. We decided that the next time we tried it we’d make it a 2-touch game rather than just 1-touch.

After that we had them to serving and passing triples as warm-up for then moving on to the servers vs passers game we’ve been playing.

We then had them do the hitters vs defense where the antenna is set up so the attacker can only go through a narrow channel dominated by a double block. Last time we had them hitting through 4. This time it was through 2.

Next up was Pin Magic, which is a 5 v 5 game. You have pin hitters in the front row and three back court players. Each rally is started with a bounced ball which acts as the first contact. That side’s player in 5 must set the ball, and the ally goes from there. Points are only scored on kills which are set by the player in 5 (on either side).

We finished up with a couple of rotations of 22 vs. 22. We used the variation where a first-ball kill in the initial rally earned that side a big point (no second ball).