Tag Archive for volleyball offense

What is zero tempo?

If you followed my coaching log entries for the 2016 Midwestern State season, you know at one point in the season we spent time on middle attack tempo. Our hitters were much too slow. They were still in their approach on setter contact.

This brought up some questions about the tempo we wanted to run. Specifically, should it be first tempo or zero tempo?

Honestly, I didn’t hear of zero tempo until a couple years ago. I don’t know when it started to be used. It seems to be very much an American thing, though. Basically, it’s when the hitter is off the ground at setter contact.

At least that’s what it is supposed to be. That’s how it’s described in this video.

If you watch the video, though, the hitters are not actually in the air on setter contact. They have both feet down, and are just about to jump. This is considered first tempo, rather than zero tempo. At least some people think of it that way.

Differing opinions

I spoke with Mark from At Home on the Court about this. He and I are on the same page that by our reckoning in the air on setter contact is 1st tempo. We both admit, though, that you almost never actually see that. I had a male player at Exeter who did it, and one of our MBs at MSU did it once in a match. Those are the exceptions, though.

Even still, I have long pushed my quick attackers to beat the ball. I know they probably won’t get all the way there, but at least they’ll get closer to ideal.

The idea of the zero tempo ball is that it forces the block to make a choice. In order to stop a quick attack running that fast, the block must commit on the hitter. That then makes it very hard – maybe impossible – to get up if the ball is set elsewhere.

In practice, a properly run first tempo ball is very hard to stop without commit blocking. If the ball is set high enough to let the hitter make contact on full extension, the block will struggle to get up high enough, fast enough to stop it.

Kill percentage off perfect pass

The following question came in from a reader:

What percent of kills should we expect on a perfect pass? Serve receive or free balls?

The answer to this is reliant very much on level of play. High school girls probably do not score at the same rate as college men, for example. Unfortunately, the mailer didn’t tell me what level they are at.

I honestly don’t have a specific answer in any case. I reached out to Mark Lebedew from At Home on the Court to see what he had to say, and he told me in the men’s PlusLiga in Poland (the top professional division) it’s a 62% kills rate, with a 47% hitting efficiency. This struck me as low, but that just goes to show that personal impressions aren’t always (or even often?) right. 🙂

Mark went on to say the PlusLiga sideout rate off perfect passes is 72%.

I’m curious to hear what folks with good figures say about kill % and sideout rates at their level. If you have any data, please share via a comment below.

Trying to hide setter signals or make fake calls

Yesterday I addressed an email that came in on the subject of having hitters call their sets or call for the ball. One of the parts of the email I didn’t specifically address in that post is the idea of hiding play calls and/or otherwise trying to deceive the other team about what attack routes the hitters will be taking.

I certainly have no probably with the setter hiding the sets their indicating to their hitters. I’m a bit less enthusiastic about hitters yelling for one set and running for another, as the emailer described.

In all seriousness, does that sort of thing ever work?

If I’m a blocker I’m watching you make your run, not really listening to what you’re saying. If you call for a 51 (quick in front of the setter) and run a 31 (quick away from the setter), I’m not going to be faked out. The only real fake sort of thing I see working is one where you doing something like show a 51, but then step around the setter to hit a 71 (quick behind). And that sort of thing works because the blocker pretty much has to commit on the 51 to be able to stop it.

I’d actually go one step further. I’d contend that you could tell the other team exactly what each hitter will be run and it probably wouldn’t make a massive amount of difference. Look at the men’s game, especially at the upper levels. They all pretty much run the same thing. You don’t see a lot of variation. Doesn’t stop the offense from being highly effective.

I have often compared the setter in volleyball to a quarterback who runs the option in football. Every defense who plays against the option offense knows where the different players are going. It comes down to whether the quarterback (setter) can make the correct decision and select the right option based on how the defense (block) commits itself and how well both teams execute.

And of course there’s the broader question of whether the proper play calling is being done in the first place. If you’re getting your best hitter against the weakest point in the block then you’re probably going to have success, even if the other team knows exactly where the ball’s going.

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 25, 2016

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

Along with our Saturday match, the weekend’s Elitserie fixtures included Hylte hosting RIG and Ă–rebro hosting Lindesberg on Sunday. The latter match was the more interesting of the two as it was far more likely to have implications on playoff standings. With both teams virtually assured of 12 points from their four matches vs RIG and Sollentuna in the second half, if either Ă–rebro or Lindesberg is able to win both of their matches against each other – especially if they are 3-point wins – it will put them in position to seriously challenge for a top-3 playoff seed.

We’d have liked to see Lindesberg win 3-2. Alas, after a tight first set, Ă–rebro ran away with a fairly easy 3-0 victory. Hylte also won easily. Basically, that means the standings to start this week had the same order as they did to end the first half of the season. The only difference is that Ă–rebro has played an extra match.

Monday
Our Monday practice gym was cold, so I made some adjustments to the session I had in mind to try to make sure the players stayed active and didn’t cool off between activities. We started talking a bit about Saturday’s match, and then a bit about Wednesday’s opponent, Hylte. I had observed that they did some different things with their line-up in their weekend match than they did at Gran Prix. They started the setter in the same position, but they swapped the position of their OHs and their MBs.

After the talk and warm-ups, we did some 3-person over-the-net pepper, followed by serving-and-passing 3s. That was followed by servers vs. passers, with an adjustment in the scoring to have the passers target 2.2 rather than 2.0 as an average.

After that, I had them down continuous cross-court digging. That was something I hadn’t planned, but inserted for the “keep warm” factor. After that, we did some hitting and blocking with pin hitters going 1 v 1 against pin blockers. After doing a bit of Winners 3s, we finished up with a few 7-point games of left side vs right side.

Tuesday
We had two extra players on-hand – ones I’m hoping will be a fixture on Tuesdays from now one. They’ve both been with us several times before, but not on a consistent basis. Having them will definitely help doing more full-team type work – especially on what will often be the training before a match in the weeks ahead.

We had an opportunity to look at some video from Hylte’s weekend match, so spent a bit of time talking scouting. It wasn’t a lot of new stuff, though. More a reminder, seeing as we’ve played them 3 times already this year.

After warm-ups and pre-hab, I split the group over two courts and had them do a 3 v 3 cooperative back court game. The first part was just a warm-up extension, but after a few minutes I made it competitive in that the first court to get to 10 consecutive good pass-set-hits won.

From there we had the pin hitters on one court working on their directional hitting. I had a couple of blockers in place for them to work around. On the other court, the MBs were working on their attacks.

I then brought the groups together to do hitters against blockers and defense. Basically, this was the same thing we did last week where the block and defense were working on their positioning and reading and the hitters were working on their audible calls. They did play out the rallies.

From there we progressed to 6 v 6 play. I made about even teams and we played a variation on the 2-in-2 game. Instead of it being 2 serves and a point scored only if a team wins both rallies, otherwise it was a wash, we did alternating serves until a team won two in a row. That sees points scored more quickly. I had the games be to 4 and we went through four rotations.

Lastly, we played a regular 25 point game. This was A team vs B team, so to speak. It ended up being 25-15. There were some good rallies, but I think I probably won’t do that again. Just too lopsided.

I was really happy with what I saw of our defensive play. That facet of our game has really come along lately.

Wednesday
Let’s just say this wasn’t our best performance. During the first two sets we both served and passed serve poorly. The third set was much improved in both respects, but through the whole match we were constantly playing from behind. It was a tight affair, with no more than a 3 point margin in any given set, but we lost 0-3. That’s our first home league loss and the first time we didn’t get at least a point.

In the final analysis we came out ahead in terms of blocking, we had more aces, and we passed better. Our kill % was at the 40% level we’ve been working toward reaching. Our sideout percentage was high, but there’s was just a little higher. We simply made too many mistakes – particularly in the areas of attack and serve. In the case of the latter, not only did we miss nearly 20% of our serves, but they often came at bad times. The fact that we saw a similar issue against Sollentuna, I’m worried that we’ve fallen back into old habits.

Our O1 didn’t have her best match, which hurt us. We are heavily reliant on her scoring for us. This is something I feel like we need to remedy. We’re predictable. That’s fine against lesser teams, but against the better ones it means we’re constantly facing a bigger, better formed block. It’s going to take some of our other hitters stepping up to ease that pressure – and some better sets.

Friday
One player was missing because she needed to work. We also had a shortened time slot for training due to a floor ball match being played immediately afterwards. Given the early start and long ride for Saturday’s match this probably wasn’t a bad situation.

After warm-ups and prehab, I had them do some serving. We then did a cooperative cross-court team pepper. I made a few adjustments, though. In this case, the setters and the defenders were fixed. I had the two OHs and MBs rotate between front row and back row. One of my MBs defends in 6, while the other defends in 5. The OH played in the same position as the MB when in the back row. I allowed for both attacks through 4 and in the back row in this variation.

From there we went through the rotations. Because my OPP was missing, I had my back-up setter play in her position. The team received serve and attacked, then defended and transitioned against an attacked ball through 4 from me on a box. Not something I normally like doing, but I had to deal with the constraints.

We finished with back row Winners 3s.

Saturday
We were on the road at about 6:40 for our trip up to Ă–rebro.

2016-01-23 14.09.03

The team was in pretty good spirits and energy going into the match. Unfortunately, the serving issues we’ve been having of late showed themselves again. We missed 11 serves in the first two sets, which prevented us from really taking hold of the match at certain times. We won the first set 21-25, but lost the second 25-19.

Serving improved in the third set, but our passing started to break down as that game when along. We jumped out to a big early lead – 14-4, I believe – but got stuck at a couple of points and ended up letting them back in. A combination of poor reception and not taking key chances eventually saw us lose that one 31-29.

The four set started of badly. I think we went down 6-0 based mainly on bad passing. We eventually recovered and were level on 8-8, but never could quite get on top of them. They ended up winning 25-19.

As noted, we started off serving poorly, but we passed pretty well – 2.00 and 2.14 in the first two sets. Serving was improved in the latter two sets – at least in terms of misses, but passing plummeted – 1.55 and 1.57. Basically, our Libero and O2 completely lost the plot. They combined for 9 aces or overpasses and recorded 22 1-passes.

Not that this was our only issue. A big problem was a lack of kills from our attackers. The setter did a pretty good job distributing the ball and getting lots of 1-on-1 situations, but we couldn’t put the ball away. Our O2, OPP, and M2 had kill percentages of 17%, 18%, and 7% respectively. This is a major issue. We need at least one of them to step up and produce because otherwise our O1 and M1 are just going to face bigger and more well-formed blocks, making them less and less effective.

Sunday
This was a recove

Thoughts, observations, and other stuff
On Tuesday, Engelholm won 3-1 over Amager in the Oresund Liga. That drew them level with us on 13 points, but into second on set differential. Here’s the current table:

OresundLiga-012016

There isn’t another Liga match until we host Amager the first week of February. That same week, Brøndby will host Engelholm in a match with major championship implications.

In the Elitserie, RIG also hosted Sollentuna on Wednesday in a battle of the bottom two teams. As was the case in the first half, Sollentuna came away with the win. Sollentuna was also in action on Saturday, making a trip down to Gislaved. As expected, the home team won 3-0.

I made a coaching mistake the other day

In hindsight, I think I made a personnel mistake in one of my Svedala matches. Of course there’s no way of knowing what would have happened had I acted differently. I just think I missed an opportunity from a couple of different perspectives.

Here’s the scenario…

We were away to the team second from bottom in the league (we’re currently in first). It’s a team whose only victories have come against the bottom team. We beat them 3-0 at home on the first day of the season.

A big focus for us was getting a clean 3-0 win. This is for two reasons.

First, we hadn’t done that in a while – about four months. The team joked about how we always seemed to want to play extra. At the time we led the league in sets played. The not so funny part of that is the extra play does take its toll. We had a very small squad (just 8 at the time). With 11 matches between then and March 6th, and then playoffs to follow, limiting the pounding on the bodies could only help.

The second reason is you never know when it might come down to a set differential tie break.

We won the first set 25-20. The second set had a kind of ugly start, but we pulled away after the 9-9 point and won 25-17. In the third set we went up 11-5 and 13-7 before allowing them to slowly claw back. They got it to 19-19. We eventually went back out in front 23-20, but again let them back in and only managed to win 27-25.

It had been my hope to try to get my second setter some setting time during the match, rather than just being used as a defensive sub for our OPP. During the match, though, I was fixated on having her set while in for the OPP. That would see our starting setter hit, which she is perfectly capable of doing (it’s something I’ve thought about being an option should we have an injury issue).

Not thinking of doing a direct swap of setters was my big mistake. It led to two things I regret about how the match went. One is obviously not getting the second setter in to set – and not even getting in at all during the second set because of how things played out. The other is that I think we lost an opportunity to spread the ball around to more hitters.

It’s that second point that really got me thinking upon reflection that I’d goofed. Our starting setter didn’t spread the ball around as much as I’d have liked. I understand that the hitters who didn’t get the ball as much (OPP and M2) weren’t putting the ball away while the others were. From a “we want to win” perspective, which I’m sure the setter was thinking, that’s perfectly fine. From an offensive development perspective, though, we needed the ball spread around more.

I tend to believe the back-up setter would have done more of that. Actually, that can be something of a weakness in her game. She tends to be a bit more egalitarian in her set distribution. In this situation, though, that might have been beneficial.

In many ways I was looking at the match as a progression of the development work we did in training the prior week (see my log entry). Unfortunately, I was overly fixated on the match action and desired 3-0 outcome at the time, and overlooked my options.

Need to file that experience away to keep in mind for the future.

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 – Dec 21, 2015

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

Entering the week we stood top of the table with 24 points having completed our 10 first half matches. The other key match of the weekend was Engelholm vs. Lindesberg, which was won by the home team 3-1. That did not settle things for sure, but it certainly put Engelholm in good position to qualify with 18 points to Lindesberg’s 13. Ă–rebro was also on 18.

The four remaining matches before the Christmas break were Lindesberg vs. Sollentuna on Wednesday, Gislaved vs. Ă–rebro on Saturday, then Hylte vs. Lindesberg and Engelholm vs. RIG on Sunday. If all matches went according to expectations based on prior performance, the seedings for Gran Prix would be 1) Hylte, 2) Svedala, 3) Ă–rebro, 4) Engelholm.

Monday
This was a recovery session after Sunday’s match. After talking a bit about how we played and about Tuesday’s opposition, and dynamic warm-up, the players played a competitive game of volleytennis. I then had them do a bit of target serving. We followed that up with a little bit of work on blocking against live hitters. The players did most of the talking with each other about positioning and movement and the like, though I also talked about some technical elements. We finished up with some serve and pass.

Tuesday
Around midday I got a message from our third OH that she will be leaving the team. She’s been applying to universities. Unfortunately, she didn’t get into one in our area, so will be heading back up north (where she’s from). Not exactly the sort of development we needed given our already thin squad!

The match against Brøndby was played in their main hall where we played two of the matches from the pre-season tournament we won.

Brondby Hall

Things started off a bit rough. We struggled with our passing and made a number of errors in the first set. At the same time, though, we were able to put them under considerable pressure from the service line. The result was an odd reversal of our normal pattern. Instead of siding out well and struggling to score on our serve, we only sided out at 32% and scored at 58%. That saw the score end up closer than probably our play deserved at 19-25.

That pattern held for the second set as well, with the percentages roughly the same. We were more competitive generally, but still lost 22-25.Our passing in those first two sets were 1.86 and 1.46 respectively, which helps explain the poor side-out performance.

Our more standard pattern re-emerged in the 3rd set in line with better reception (2.06). That let us bring our MBs into the attack more, and that was one area where we had a notable advantage. In particular, I talked with with about using movement to essentially beat the other middle to the point of attack, which we generally did well as the match progressed. We ended up winning 25-18.

We got on top of them early in the 4th set, but some further struggles in reception allowed them to claw their way back. We were level at 21-21, but errors on our side ended up costing us and we lost 22-25.

Four missed serves on the set didn’t help. That may not seem like a lot, but we only had 3 in the previous sets combined. We only had 5 aces, but we put them under enough pressure that they were often very predictable and were taking something off their swings or making hitting errors.

I think at least mental fatigue was a factor in our performance after Sunday’s intense battle at Hylte. We made some mistakes we haven’t made in a while and generally struggled – especially in the first couple of sets – in some of the finer skills. Our OH2 in particular didn’t look her same self. Although her ankle seemed fine, no doubt there was a lingering effect there. The team fought hard and had a good spirit (staff from Brøndby actually commented on it to me after the match). We just made too many mistakes.

This match-up was a good one to have for a couple of reasons. One was that it saw us have to play against larger pin blockers, which we haven’t done much in a while. It was something we definitely struggled with, especially in the first couple sets. The challenge was to figure out how we could apply our strengths against weaker points in their block/defense, which largely meant working against their MBs. Our M1 had 22 kills and 6 blocks.

Actually, overall our blocking was fairly solid. We tallied 11 and forced a number of errors and easily dug swings. Admittedly, though, this team was the type with OHs who look to tool the block, which is what we’ve struggled against.

Wednesday
I had spoken with the team after the match on Tuesday about what to do on Wednesday. I didn’t see any need to have an actual training session – though the younger players may have wanted one. Instead, I was good with using our normal weekly team weight-lifting session as a low impact type of recovery session. We agreed on doing it about 2 hours earlier than we normally do.

At the end of lifting I talked with the group briefly about expectations for the break. Mainly that was staying active physically, but also keeping it low impact to allow aching muscles, joints, etc. to recover. We discussed a bit of the calendar moving forward as well. Then I took 7 of them out for dinner. The other two had commitments (one of the Americans has family visiting).

Other results and standings
Wednesday’s loss may have put an Oresund Liga title out of reach at this point. Brøndby is 4 points clear of the pack now with one less match played than Engelholm and ourselves who are both on 10. We’ll need some help and our own victory over them in the return fixture in February to have a shot. Our next match toward the Liga is our first match of 2016 – home against Holte.

On Wednesday Lindesberg easily handled Sollentuna, as expected. That moved them to within 2 points of both Engelholm and Ă–rebro. It probably wasn’t going to be enough to see them earn a spot in Gran Prix, but it assured at least that things would go down to the last day of the first half of the season on Sunday before the spots were finally decided.

On Saturday Ă–rebro played at Gislaved. An outright win would assure Ă–rebro of at least 3rd seed. Anything less would see them a risk of being overtaken and possibly left out in the cold. They managed a tight 3-1 victory to put them level on points with Hylte. The table on the league website indicated them as having moved up to 2nd on the basis of number of wins (8 vs. Hylte’s 7), but there’s been some question as to whether that or set ratio is the actual second tiebreak. The latter favored Hylte and would continue to do so even if they lost 0-3 on Sunday.

That left Engelholm and Lindesberg as the final two from which the 4th and final spot in Gran Prix would be decided on Sunday. The strong edge went to Engelholm as they hosted winless RIG, while Lindesberg faced a daunting road trip to Hylte.

Here’s an interesting scenario. Going into Sunday, Hylte was in a position to potentially decide their semifinal opponent for Gran Prix. A 3-0 or 3-1 win would give them top seed and probably Engelholm as their first round foe. Anything less than that would mean a 2nd or 3rd seed and a match against Ă–rebro. Obviously, a win over Lindesberg wasn’t a sure thing. If they preferred Ă–rebro over Engelholm as their first round opponent, though…

If Hylte did prefer Ă–rebro, they got them. They beat Lindesberg 3-2, meaning we ended up as the top seed. That result also sealed Lindesberg’s fate, keeping them out of 4th regardless of Engelholm’s result. In any case, Engelholm won 3-0, basically as expected.

Here’s the Elitserie table as of the end of the first half.

ElitSerie-Table-122015

Coaching Log – Oct 12, 2015

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

Based on the stats from the first match, there were a couple of areas of focus I had in mind for this week’s training. One was hitting. Our kill % from the Ă–rebro match was only 30%, and we probably need to be at 40% or better. Also, our hitting error % was right around 18% (not counting blocked attacks), which is too high. It probably needs to be around 10%. These targets are based on last year’s statistics. A big part of this is increasing our effectiveness out of the middle. We only had 6 kills on 30 swings, which is way too low for that position.

By comparison, the official passing numbers look quite good, with a nearly 50% perfect rating. Our bench numbers have it at less than 40%, though, but one match with the vast majority of balls going to one player isn’t really enough to go on. That will remain an area of focus regardless.

The flip side of that is serving. We could be doing better there in terms of focusing on our targets, hitting seams, etc. Ă–rebro is listed as having a 55% perfect rate, which no doubt is at least as inflated as our own, but still goes to show that we could put more pressure on the opposition.

Monday
I got the player’s impressions on Saturday’s match and shared my own at the start of training. We also walked through the 6 serve reception rotations to look at ways we can change things up if needed, and took a look at the rotation defense. That’s something we’ll probably do some work on in the future to have available in case we want to use it.

The talking and walk-through ate up some time in an already shorter session (Monday’s are 2 hours). I wasn’t worried about it, though, as I wouldn’t have wanted to go very long anyway since my plan was to put a heavy focus on the MBs.

After warm-ups I had them play the Amoeba serving game to work a bit on serving accuracy and to get the competitive juices flowing. That resulted in a discussion about over-thinking things because they were making assumptions about rules that were never stated or intended, which came back around later in training in a different context.

I had them play Winners after that, but with a new wrinkle. This time I had both the setters and middles be fixed. The rest of them were split up into teams of 2, so the final result was that they played 4s. I also had them run it on a narrow court to encourage rallies and to force the hitters to find more ways of scoring. About midway through I had the MBs switch to work with the other setter.

From there we progressed to a 5 v 5 playing 3 up and 2 back (Zone 6 was designated as out of bounds). In this game only the MBs could score. They got a point by either getting a kill or a block, or by the other MB making an error. If someone other than the MB scored, that team earned the right to receive serve. The first game had the setters in 1 for the purposes of serve reception.

What I ended up observing was that balls were being forced to the MB in positions where their chances of getting a kill were virtually nil. Again, the players were over-thinking as I never said only the MBs could attack. We talked about the decision-making and how sometimes the better play was to not go for the point. After that, I moved the setters to 4 for serve reception and had the MBs switch teams. The second set ended up being much more competitive.

I had them do some target serving to finish training.

I didn’t take any stats on it, but I felt like the focus on running the middle attack had the passers more locked in. It also served to force a bit more creativity and invention in the attack, and might have provided a few ideas for use in matches. That was the point, so good outcome from that perspective.

Tuesday
We had a couple of guest players for training to bring our number up to 12, so I took the opportunity to work in some 6 v 6 activities. After warming-up and doing some ball-handling I had them play Speedball. As with Monday, though, I had the setters and MBs fixed, so it was 4 teams of two playing with them.

We then moved on to a combination of games. The primary one was Baseball, which we played through all 6 rotations. That was to work on transition play. Because I only have two MBs and they would have to play front row all the time, after each inning I pulled them out to serve for a 3 point wash-game. It featured alternating serves to get a bit more serve reception work, with the winner of the initial rally getting a second ball. If they won that rally as well, they got the point. I saw a lot of good defense in those games.

After doing some target serving, I finished up with a couple rounds of Scramble to work on staying focused on the job at hand (letting mistakes go) and developing more calm during scrappy periods in matches.

Wednesday
Back to the core group. After a physically demanding session on Tuesday, and having weight training beforehand, this was a somewhat lower intensity practice. It actually started with a discussion about the stats from Saturday’s match. They were substantially adjusted at the league level. Our team hitting efficiency jumped up to .268 with a near 40% kill rate. Although the numbers for our middle attack were better, they still weren’t where they need to be, so I wasn’t operating under a false evaluation in my earlier sessions.

On the flip side, our passing numbers went totally the other way. Our perfect pass percentage was 11%. The thing about passing numbers, though, is they are heavily reliant on the characteristics of the setter. My suspicion is that the revised figures were strict interpretation rather than reality based. Regardless, we’ll be focusing on our own bench stats for consistency’s sake.

After our usual warm-up game, we did some positional digging in pairs. That was followed by serving and passing with setters and MBs getting some work on their connections. From there we went to back court attack winners 3s, and then Speedball with fixed setters. The remainder of the session was 5 v 5 play using a wash game. We played 3 front, 2 back. One side had defenders in 5 and 6 and the other had them in 1 and 5. The empty spaces were declared out. I rotated players around so they were attacking and defending in both ways.

Friday
We had a guest male player to get us up to 11 for this training, which actually was in our Monday gym because of a community event in our main hall.  After warm-ups, we did Continuous Cross-Court Digging to keep working on digging technique and general defensive mentality. I’ve seen definite improvements in both areas of late, particularly in the mentality.

To carry the defensive stuff over into game play while also starting to prepare for game play later, we next played back court attack Winners 3s with fixed setters. That then shifted to narrow court Winners 4s with fixed setters and middles to continue the week’s work on developing our middle offense.

From there we did a pair of alternating games. First was Bingo-Bango-Bongo to work on transition play. Because of the strain that puts on the MBs, though, after each round of that we shifted the MBs into a serving and defense roll and played a wash game of 5 v 5 with no middle blockers. The session finished with a regular game of 5 v 6.

Sunday
Our match was at 15:00, after the second team played theirs. It was against Sollentuna, which is another one of the northern teams in the league. My review of their match from last weekend pointed to struggles in serve reception and a very shallow defense which made them vulnerable to deep attacks. The feeling was that the main focus should be on serving effectively and putting up a good block against their strong OH.

Unfortunately for the home crowd, it didn’t turn out to be the most exciting match. Aside from a couple of tricky patches, we were the dominant side in a 3-0 win. As expected, Sollentuna struggled in serve reception, which resulted in a lot of high outside sets. Our block was a bit off to start, but adjusted and forced their best hitter into quite a few errors.

Thoughts and observations
We continue to get overly excited in our play. It’s getting better, but we’re still making errors of the over-aggression type – like wanting to win the match with a single swing. Need to keep working on that.

Defense generally showed good improvement over the week, especially in the commitment perspective. I’d like to see more 2-armed digging efforts, though, to improve ball control.

I’d like to see us do a little more bettering the ball at times.

Other stuff
I finished up with initial individual meetings this week, which I think went pretty well. I could see immediate effects from some of the discussions in training during the week.

The second team coach asked to use two of our non-starters in their match, which was before ours. Both got a lot of playing time, especially since the match went 5.