Tag Archive for Coaching skills

Creating Game-Like Volleyball Drills

In her book, Coaching Volleyball Successfully, Sally Kus shares how to make drills game-like. This is something which gets a lot of attention in coaching circles these days (see my post on random vs. blocked training). Here are those steps.

  1. Identify the skill.
  2. Go back one play.
  3. Start the drill there.
  4. Perform the skill.
  5. Perform the next in the sequence.

So, for example, if you want to work on OH attacks you could do something like this.

  1. A serve or free ball from the other side of the net is initiated to a player.
  2. That player then transitions and attacks a set ball.
  3. The player then moves to their defensive base at the net.
  4. The player executes a block (perhaps with some initial footwork).

The idea of using these more complex drills is for the player to execute the skill within the context of how they do it during a match situation. The player sees what they will see before the skill (ball coming across the net, coming from a teammate, etc.), executes the skill, then does something immediately afterwards.

Admittedly, these types of drills run slower than the simple ones (like hitting lines). Aside from training the players to play the ball as they do in real life, though, these drills allow you to train multiple skills. This is done either with one player or several of them. Clearly, when working with beginners you’ll use less complicated drills. Even with that group, though, there are plenty of ways to make things game-like by initiating the ball over the net, having them execute a follow-up skill, etc.

The Smelly Sock lesson

Early in my career I attended the Coaches Accreditation Program Level II (CAP II) course run by USA Volleyball. The lead instructor was John Kessel, who has a big reputation in international volleyball circles. John used a teaching technique one session, and it sticks with me to this day. Turns out that was exactly the point.

It was a session on setting. We reached the point of talking about setter penetration from the back row. I don’t recall the motivation, but John talked about the importance of the setter getting to their target spot. That target is at the net. It isn’t five feet off the net, as opposed to what so many setters seem to think it is.

Before I tell you what happened next, I should preface it by saying this was winter. We were in a facility which was not exactly well heated and it was cold!

At a certain point, John stopped and removed one of his shoes. Then he pulled off his sock as well. Standing barefoot on that freezing floor, he tied his sock on the bottom of the net at the setter’s target zone. Then, he turned to the players demonstrating the back row penetration and said, “Go to the smelly sock.”

Making use of the pattern break

With this surprising move John did two things. First, he gave the players a very memorable cue they could reuse in the future, even when there was no sock tied to the net. Second, he showed us coaches the value of doing something out of the ordinary to fix a reference in the minds of our players.

Did I ever tie a sweaty sock to the net? Not so far. That lesson, though, stuck with me over the years and is a constant reminder that I should always work to find ways to connect with my players in unique and memorable ways.

How can you leave a lasting impression on your players and import a key lesson on them at the same time? You don’t necessarily need to remove bits of clothing. It doesn’t even have to be a visual thing. Really, it’s anything that breaks the normal pattern.

Find those pattern break and you have new ways to leave an impression. Leave an impression and you have made an impact.

Problem Solving: Setting out of the middle

The first volleyball team I ever coached by myself was the Southeast Boys Scholastic team in the Massachusetts Bay State Games. You can think of the Games as an annual mini Olympic type of competition. The six regions of the state compete against each other in a wide array of sports. In volleyball it means running team tryouts, having weekly training sessions for a month or so, then competing in the 3-day tournament during the month of July.

I’d never even seen Bay State Games competition, so I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into from that perspective. I’d had enough exposure to high school boys volleyball to at least have a general idea of what to expect. I didn’t, however, know the specific level of play there would be among presumably the better players in the state. I did know that I had some talent on my team, though.

Then I heard my setter sprained his ankle the week before the tournament.

Forced to Re-Think the Setting Position

I had just one pure setter, so this forced me to have to rethink my whole line-up plan. Naturally, the big decision was who would take that role. I had two candidates. One was a kid named Josh who set and hit outside in a 6-2 system for his high school. The other was Greg, who was primarily a middle, but also set.

I only had two proper middles, but in the end I decided to have Greg set rather than Josh. Why? Because Josh was a real stud player who could potentially get two touches on the ball each time it was on our side of the net. If he set he’d only get one touch.

Of course, using Greg as setter in a 5-1 offense left me with only one viable middle. As a result, I had to rethink how to set my line-up. I decided to have him set out of the middle when he was front row. That way he could still perform the middle blocker function. While in the back row he played normal setter defense (right back), while my right side players played middle back defense.

Believe it or not, we won the gold medal with this line-up. Just goes to show, you can win with non-standard line-ups. This is why it’s so important for coaches to have a firm understanding of the different types of systems teams can play (see a book like Volleyball Systems & Strategies). It helps adapt to situations and be able to maximize the talents of the team.

 

Volleyball Coaching Concept: Wave drills & games

Wave drills in volleyball are quite useful when you work with larger groups of players. They’re also good in high intensity drills. They can help avoid excess fatigue.

Basically, wave drills involve grouping players. You then rotate them through positions in a game or drill together. Doing so can effectively minimize down time in the form of players sitting out. You can also use them to move players into a less demanding role after a high intensity sequence. For example, MBs shift from fast-paced front row play to serving or defense.

A game like Winners 3s is a simple version of a wave structure. At the end of each point, one group of players comes off while another group comes on. A third group may also shift from the challenge side of the court to the winners’ side.

Another variation on this is breaking the team in to cohorts of three. They then play a 6 v 6 game during which those cohorts are rotated through front and back court positions. For example, a new wave comes on in the back court position on one side after each rally ends. That then cascades the waves through. It pushes the back court cohort on the other side of the net off as the front court group moves into their place. This allows you to have players on for 4 straight rotations. They are only off a minimal amount of time (1 rotation if you have 5 groups, 2 rotations if you have 6, etc.).

You can also wave on errors. Say you have 18 players. You split them into six groups of three. Three teams are assigned to each side of the court. Two teams are on and one is off waiting. The teams play through a rally. One of the cohorts on the losing side is replaced by the cohort waiting on the sideline based on some rule, like which group was at fault for the point lost.

I’m sure you can think of numerous other waves ideas. In fact, you probably use them in an ad hoc way right now. When you flip front and back row during a drill or game (like in Bingo-Bango-Bongo after a big point), that’s a form of a wave. The advantage of formal the wave rotations, however, is players are responsible for automatic waving. That means you don’t have to stop things to do it. This saves time and keeps the training intensity up.

Book Review: The Volleyball Coaching Bible

The Volleyball Coaching Bible is a book which got me excited right away. It features contributions by several experienced, successful coaches. There are 24 chapters authored by as many individuals. The come from the ranks of Juniors, high school, collegiate, and national team levels – even beach. Once I dug it I found my excitement justified. There are a lot of golden nuggets in this book.

Book structure

The editors broke the book down into five sections:

  • Coaching Priorities and Principles
  • Program Building and Management
  • Innovative and Effective Practice Sessions
  • Individual Skills and Team Tactics
  • Game-Winning and Tournament Winning Strategies

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Skills & Tactics section is the biggest. It has nine chapters. They cover all the major facets of volleyball skills and systems. The Program section comes in second with five. Three of them focus on college, club, and high school volleyball programs in specific. The Practice section has four chapters. They cover practice planning, drill development, teaching methods, and volleyball conditioning.

In the technical chapters there are things some readers will no doubt disagree with in terms of mechanics, focal points, or whatever. That’s going to happen in any book where such things are discussed. I personally really liked the setting chapter. It spends lots of time on the mental side of setting and what it takes to be a good setter.

There are specific drill sections included in the Serving and Blocking chapters. A couple of the other skill chapters mention drills as well. This is definitely not a volleyball drill book, however.

The bookend sections each have three chapters. The Priorities one focuses most on the mental and behavioral side of coaching. That’s in terms of setting goals, handling yourself with the various people and groups you will interact with along the way. The last section is on Strategies. As it’s name suggests, it focuses on maximizing your teams in competition when game day comes.

Considering Contents

Naturally, when you talk about a book comprising contributions from multiple authors you have variation in writing style and voice. That’s certainly true here. Some are quite well written and very engaging, while others are less so.

It must be noted that the book was published in 2002. As a result, in places it reflects the shift from sideout to rally score taking place in US volleyball in that period. Different levels of play adapted rally scoring at different times. As a result, there are references to sideout scoring in places. This is especially in the sections on offense. This may make you think the material is dated. Certainly, there are a couple of points made which are not really relevant in the modern game. They are minor, though, and do not detract from the overall value of the book.

Admittedly, there are a couple of chapters under the Program Building and Management section with a very US-centric view. That may make them a bit less useful than other chapters for those outside the States. Even here, though, there are some bits worth latching on to. John Dunning’s discussion on how the focus of a team or program must be the players is one. Tom Pingel’s  is a very detailed (and action oriented) look at how to develop a successful club program. Yes, the latter has the US Juniors system as its foundation. In my experience, though, the details and issues involved in running clubs are common no matter where you go.

One quirky element is the drawings used to show the mechanics of the skills discussed in those chapters – at least some of them. They are quite reminiscent of the style of illustrations from much older coaching books.

What I really liked

One of my favorite chapters is Pete Waite’s “Competitive Edge”. It is largely dedicated to addressing the mental and emotional side of training, competition, and general player/team management (Waite later authored Aggressive Volleyball).

Jim Coleman’s “scouting & evaluating” chapter could have your head spinning. It addresses volleyball statistics. It does so in ways I’m sure most coaches have never really considered them before.

Personally, as a more experienced coach I found the chapters focused on planning, philosophy, and management the most interesting and valuable. Were I less experienced, the skills and systems chapters would no doubt be of considerable value. Of course, then the other material might be less so. As a result, perhaps the best way to look at The Volleyball Coaching Bible is as a long-term reference. It can be used to different ends as one develops as a coach.

Save time by naming your volleyball drills

You will notice that the volleyball drills and games I post here to share with you have names. You may or may not like them and think you can come up with better ones. If so, go for it. They are being shared so you can incorporate them into your training if you find them useful. I fully expect in doing so that you’ll make any adaptations you deem necessary.

Getting back to the point, though, there is a very specific reason for my assigning names to drills and games. It’s one which I encourage you to emulate if you aren’t already do it.

By naming each drill and using that name with your players you’ll make your training sessions go much more smoothly. Nothing grinds a well-tempoed practice to a halt faster than having to take several minutes to explain what you want for the next drill. Obviously, that can’t be avoided when introducing a new drill (which is why the start of the session is often the best time to do it). For those you use fairly regularly, though, having a name means the players know exactly what you want and can get on with things. There may be those who through either being new or being dense don’t know what’s going on, of course. The rest of the squad will get them sorted out so you can focus on what’s happening, though.

Now this doesn’t mean you can’t make modifications to adapt the drill to concentrate on your priorities for that session. As long as they don’t change the basic functioning of the drill, you do what you like. For example, you could say something like:

“We’re going to do The Belly Drill now. Since I want to focus on quick attacks today, though, we’re going to add a scoring element. A team will get 1 point for a kill from a quick attack. We’ll keep going until one team gets to 5 points.”

In this case I’m not doing anything in terms of altering the primary way The Belly Drill functions. All I’ve done is created a modification to focus on something I want the team working on that day. The players should have no problem understanding what the drill’s about because it will function the same as always, but now as a goal.

If, however, the modification you are thinking to make to a drill will alter the basic structure of that drill, then I’d argue that you’re now talking about something different. In that case you should give it a name of it’s own. You could perhaps use the first drill’s name as a reference point when describing it to the players, but you don’t want to get into a situation where every time you use it you’re saying something like “We’re going to use that modification of Drill Z that we did that one time before where the passers go there instead of here, and the hitters are on the other side of the net, ….” Just give it a new name. It’ll make everyone’s life easier.

There aren’t many of us volleyball coaches who have all the time in the world to run our trainings, so we need to use them as efficiently as possible and waste as little time as we can. Naming drills is one way to help spend more time on action and less on talking.

And definitely feel free to change the name of drills you find here on this site, in books, etc. You want them to be memorable for the players, so maybe involve the players in naming them.

Don’t limit your players with negative thinking

Once upon a time I worked with Denise Austin at a clinic for a group of local Exeter P.E. teachers in England. It was on the subject of teaching volleyball to their students.

By the way, this is something every experienced coach should stand ready to do to help grow and develop the sport.

The things we talked about in terms of what to do to introduce volleyball to beginners is the subject of other posts. For the moment, though, I want to focus on something which happened at the clinic. A comment made by one of the teachers irked me.

It went something like this.

“They will never be able to do that.”

I don’t remember specifically what we were looking at when that was said. It doesn’t really matter, though. Statements such as this are self-fulfilling. So long as you think that, the player(s) will not be able to do whatever it is because you won’t allow it to happen. You will probably not provide sufficient opportunity to properly attempt development of that skill. Alternatively, you will actively (though perhaps subconsciously) sabotage it to prove you’re right. That leaves the players to develop the skill themselves (if they are so motivated). If they succeed, they make you look like an ass.

Our job as coaches is to push players to achieve more than they think themselves capable. We’re there to keep them growing and developing. We are not there to put limits on them.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

I once had a conversation with a high school coach on developing a quick attack with her team. This woman was generally a pretty good coach, at least by the measure of others in that state. In this area, though, she was extremely hesitant. Her excuse for not working on middle quicks was one you may have heard or thought yourself:

We don’t pass well enough.

I could be a little more colorful with my language here. Let’s just say that excuse is complete crap. It’s not that her team consistently put the ball on target. Rather, I think the excuse is a total cop out.

Here’s why I say that.

That thinking is completely the wrong way around. A team will never pass every single ball well enough to run the quick. As I noted in my post about scoring serve receive passing, good teams target an average of 2.00 or better. That means their average pass isn’t good enough to run the middle quick. Yet those teams still train the quick attack and use it in games when the opportunity presents itself.

The goal of passing is to run the quick offense by producing as many 3 passes as possible. If you give your players that kind of focus it motivates them to pass better. If all you do is run a 2-ball (second tempo or meter ball) in the middle, then the passers have no particular motivation. All they need to do is get the ball inside the 3-meter line and around the middle of the court. The 2-ball offense just doesn’t require that much precision.

Think of a successful quick attack as the reward for perhaps the ultimate expression of teamwork in volleyball. It requires three very precise coordinated movements. There must be a good pass. A hitter needs to attack at the right time. Finally, a precise set is required. If any of those things fail, the play fails. Players at basically all levels get excited when a quick attack is well executed, and for good reason. That is way more motivation for the team to pass well. It’s much more concrete than, “So the setter doesn’t have to chase all over the court.”

And it need not be something that complex.

I helped coach 12-and-under girls once upon a time. These were kids with no playing experience coming in. Some were as young as 8 years old. Nevertheless, we taught them pass-set-hit. It did not happen in games very often, of course. As the season progressed, though, we gave them the goal of N pass-set-hits per game. Even if they didn’t actually get the three contacts right most of the time, at least they thought proactively about something more than just get the ball back over the net. And when they did get it right they were very excited. The end result was our two teams finished as regional champs and runners-up.

Heck, Denise’s daughter could jump serve with an adult ball on an adult net from behind the end line as an 11-year old. If that doesn’t tell you can players can achieve a lot if we just push them and given them the right motivation, I don’t now what will.

So stop thinking that you can’t get a player or a team to a level of development or skill. Start thinking about how you can get them there.

The 4 Key Skills for Volleyball Coaches

Volleyball coaching is primary a mental exercise. That said, however, there are a few physical skills which are quite handy. That’s aside form being able to be on one’s feet for lengthy periods of time! In fact, if you are looking to be an assistant or apprentice coach, these are virtual must-have skills. After all, you are most likely to be an active participant in initiating drills. Likewise if you coach a team by yourself.

Tossing

Quite a few volleyball drills and exercises are initiated with a toss. If you cannot accurately toss a ball then you will struggle to get the sort of consistency needed for your players to work on specific skills. If you’re in any doubt, watch what happens when your players do the tossing. Think of things like balls initiated to the setter for hitting warm-ups.You can toss either under-hand or over-hand (like a setting motion). Either is fine so long as you can consistently put the ball where you want it.

Underhand serve/hit

It may seem like an easy thing, but a consistent and accurate underhand ball takes a bit of practice. Anyone can pop a high loopy ball over the net and into the middle part of the court. What a coach needs to be able to do, however, is hit balls to all parts of the court. And they need to do so at different tempos.

Topspin Hitting

Training defense, be it team or individual, requires accurately initiating an attacked ball. It could be from on the ground on the same side of the court. It could be across the net by way of a down ball. Or it could be over the net from on top of a box or chair. This might be strictly a defense drill. Maybe it’s part of transition exercise (dig – transition – attack, for example). Regardless, you need to put the ball where you want. That could be straight at the player, high/low, to one side or the other, or in front. And it requires a pace appropriate for the level of the player(s) in question.

Serving

Much of the time it makes sense to have players initiate balls in a drill with serve receive included. Sometimes, though, it behooves the coach to take that on themselves. To do so effectively, the ball needs to go where you want it to go much more often than not. Now obviously a float serve isn’t always going to end up exactly where you aimed it, but it should be pretty close.

You also need to be able to vary the speed of the serves, and it helps to have enough of a repertoire at your disposal to replicate any kind of serve your opposition may throw at your team. That doesn’t mean you need to be able to rip a powerful jump serve yourself, but you should be able to come up with a way to simulate something close (hit topspin balls from a box midway into the court, for example).

If you don’t have them…

If you are a volleyball coach without these four skills you are going to be very limited in what you can do with your team. As a head coach you can perhaps get around any limitations you may have by bringing in an assistant coach to make up for the short-coming. If you’re aiming to be an assistant coach, however, you are in a disadvantaged position by lacking these abilities when it comes to finding work.

There’s no magic way to get good at any of these volleyball coaching skills. Just as with your players, it’s all about reps.

Be sure to take care of your body, though. You are just as prone to overuse injuries as the athletes, if not more so in some ways. Learn how to take the strain off your shoulder when hitting and serving, and make sure to work on your core so all the twisting from those activities doesn’t do in your back.