Tag Archive for Volleyball Practice Planning

Some thoughts on practice planning

There was a post on the AVCA blog a while back with the title of “Practice Preparation”. An NCAA Division I assistant coach wrote it. The title was a bit misleading as there wasn’t much on actual planning. The article mostly discussed a few drills/games. Unfortunately, it looks like they removed it when they revamped the AVCA website.

In any case, I found the first two particularly interesting.

The first was a timed game where the teams only score points in certain ways. The basic idea is that you have a predefined length of time for the game while also being able to focus on key areas of developmental interest. Think of it along the same lines as a bonus point game. You focus the players on certain things you want prioritized.

I might favor the bonus point approach better. That’s only because I’ve found that sometimes only allowing certain ways a team can score points leads to forcing the ball and things like that you don’t want to encourage. If you have multiple different ways to score, though, the “forcing” is mitigated.

The second game is one call 20-20 because that’s where the scoring starts. Normal play then follows up to set point. At that point, if the team going for set point fails, they go back to 20. The other team keeps their points. So for example, it the score was 24-22 and the leading team failed to score the next rally, the new scored would be 20-23.

I used that one at Svedala. We used a variation at MSU.

Coaching Log – Nov 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching Log – Nov 9, 2015

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

The prior weekend results basically went as expected. That saw Hylte/Halmstad on top with 12 points and us in second on 10. Örebro and Engelholm both sat on 8 points, with both having played 5 matches to our 4. Below that, Lindesberg and Gislaved were both at 6 points, with the former having only played 3 matches and the later up to 5. RIG still had only a single point and Sollentuna none, both after four matches.

The league schedule this week was light, with only a pair of matches midweek as there was a national U23 tournament over the weekend.

Our Wednesday match this week was Oresundliga, not Elitserie. Following last week’s win over Gislaved, we were tied on 7 points with Engelholm after 3 matches, though they with a better set differential.

Monday
I got a message from my starting setter in the morning that she was still in quite a bit of pain from the back issue she developed late in the last match. I told her to talk to the manager about getting it checked out. I was already mentally prepared to have to play our young Swedish setter in this match. She didn’t train that night, nor did one of my OHs who has been fighting a cough for a while.

With only 7 in training, there were limits to what we could do. My focus points were to give the young setter some reps with the hitters to prepare for Wednesday, to continue working on digging, and to work on passing in Zone 1, which also got us working on serving that zone as well, which we probably could stand to do a bit more. The motivation for working on passing in that area is an observation in our passing stats that in most rotations the passer there is well below 2.0.

I started out talking with the team about some stuff I observed from Saturday’s match. Top of the list is the fact that we did rather poorly when digging the ball well. We only got kills 1/3 of the time and made errors or got blocked 27% of the time when digging a 3-ball. When digging a 2-ball, by comparison, we got kills 50% of the time with no errors or blocks. Overall, our error/block rate was around 20% for the match, which was notably higher than in the prior match. I wasn’t too worried about that given we were working on speeding up the attack and introducing some new elements. We did talk, though, that maybe we got a bit too excited on those good digs (we had 57% kills on 3-passes in serve receive). The set stats showed that while the first two sets saw us pass relatively poorly (well below 2.0), our sideout % for both was quite high. Conversely, in the last two sets we passed well, but were only around 50% in siding out.

We also talked about a potential adjustment to our serve reception formation in Rotation 1, which might give us a few different/better attacking options. Making a shift in our defensive strategy was something else we discussed in light of the setter switch for Wednesday’s match. Both were things I left to get into more when we had more bodies in training on Tuesday.

After warm-ups we did a bunch of positional digging with hitters on boxes. Serving and passing was next, with passers in Zone 1 and 6. I started that off with the setter as target to get some reps. Later I rotated her out and the two MBs through so they could get a few setting reps as well as in our system they take many of the second balls if the setter plays the first. We finished up with some hitting.

Tuesday
In looking once again at our rotation-by-rotation performance, I realized Rotation 1 wasn’t the worst one in terms of sideout % as I’d been thinking. It actually ranked 4th, well above Rotations 4 and 6. Obviously, those two need more focused attention. Rotation 4 is also the weakest in terms of point scoring, partly because our OPP has a higher than average service error rate. Generally speaking, we’re just above 50% point scoring in each rotation, with 4 being a little below there and 6 being notably above. My view is that getting better in block/defensive will give us more point scoring opportunities, and being a bit more clinical when we get good digs will raise the kill %.

Training featured 9 players. The starting setter was on the sidelines again, though appears to be only a relatively short-term loss (she was evaluated in the afternoon). One of our part-time players was on-hand, though.

After warm-ups, prehab, and some ball-handling, I had them do the cooperative cross-court hitting drill. One side had the setter fixed with the others rotating through 6, 5, and 4. The other side had the libero fixed in 5 with the others rotating through 6, 4, and setting. We haven’t done that in a while and I felt like it would be a good “live hitter” defensive exercise.

From there we moved on to serving and passing with the setter and the MBs working on middle attacks. One MB hit against one blocking, with the other serving. They rotated after 5 good swings.

Next up was a quick exercise to work on point scoring in Rotation 4. Our OPP served to start. I then gave a free ball to the 3 players on the other side. That ball was set by a MB to either pin and they played out the rally. If the serve was an error or the serving team lost the rally it was a -1. If they won it was +1. The objective was to get be at +2 after 10 balls, or to get there if by the 10th ball they hadn’t achieved the goal. I think they were at 0 after 10, but then scored the next 2 to finish. The lack of a full team on the other side really took some of the challenge out – but only if the serving team could get a dig. What I wanted to do was to put a bit of pressure on the OPP to be more consistent with her serves. She ended up only missing a couple. The bigger issue seemed to be the offensive team tooling the block on sets to position 4. One thing at a time, though.

From there I did a series of 4 v 5 games. The first time around the setter was on the 4 side. The second time through she was on the 5 side. The first round the 4 served the 5, then received a defensive ball after the initial rally. The second round the 5 served the four and then got the second ball. We played games to 10, rotating MBs and OHs along the way. On the team without the setter, a MB took the second ball.

We finished up with hitters against defense to work on employing the rotation defense (defender in 1 comes up to cover tips, 6 rotates toward the line, 5 goes deep corner, 4 takes outside the block). Basically, I just tossed balls to a trio of attackers in 4. Not exactly the sort of thing I’d usually do, but so be it.

Wednesday
We played at home against Danish side Amager. This is a team we played in our second match on the Saturday of the preseason tournament. We won relatively convincingly. I remember them as being an aggressive attacking squad, though one prone toward errors when under blocking pressure (perhaps because of youth), and not quite as good defensively as the other Danish teams we’ve faced (which tend to be very scrappy).

The result was a disappointment in that we lost 0-3, but it was a very competitive match with every set decided by only 2 points.

One big niggle was that we were up something like 18-10 in the first set and ended up losing 24-26. I don’t know if it made any difference at all, but at the point where we had the big lead I subbed out my Swedish starting OH after she finished serving. I wanted to give my back-up OH a chance to play the rest of the way in what looked like a relatively low pressure situation. The back-up didn’t do anything wrong. She passed a couple of good balls in reception (which the other OH had been struggling to do) and didn’t get any swings in attack. I eventually put my starting OH back on in the front row (she had been hitting pretty well) after using my two timeouts to try to stem the other team’s comeback, but to no avail.

The most glaring thing to come out of the analysis of the match is that we just couldn’t stop them siding out. We were generally our usual selves, siding out at about 57% even while only passing a 1.81 on the night. We just couldn’t stop them doing it (they were 61%). Partly, we weren’t serving effectively enough – 4 aces against 10 errors, with some of those errors coming at unfortunate times. Partly they made a good adjustment to attack over the top of our undersized back-up setter. We tried to make a couple of adjustments, both in the block and defensively, but just weren’t good enough.

I asked our injured starting setter her impression as she sat on the bench through the whole match. She felt like once again the team was playing not to lose.

Friday
We had a productive talk before training about Wednesday’s match and general developmental needs moving forward. I had each player share their own thoughts as a way to get broader contribution to the conversation and to avoid the stronger personalities (read the Americans) dominating. Increased and better communication was a theme from the players – partly to improve information flow, but also to increase engagement and intensity between the players. There was also some talk about being better digging the ball in terms of more taking a step and less lunging with the arms.

I brought up our troubling slide in performance in terms of scoring points when we have serve. It’s been trending lower from the beginning of the season. I talked about how this correlates to increased technical work on defense. I didn’t say there’s a causal link, but I did talk about the need to work on defense in a more integrated fashion – which means more game-like training.

The issue there, as I said to them, is our small squad size. We just don’t have the bodies at present (though we’re hoping to bring in more for at least training) to be able to go high intensity for long periods. I talked about how we’ll have to adapt things to be able to get the training intensity we need to work on the transition game properly.

I also brought up the need to have more awareness of what’s happening on the other side of the court. I asked the players which of them actually pays attention to player movements and how a play is developing and doesn’t just watch the ball. Not surprisingly, the three Americans (the most experienced players) raised their hands, but I saw a lot of sheepish looks from the rest. The players then related that back to being more vocal on court during play.

With all but the Americans heading off for a 2-day national U23 tournament over the weekend, I kept training relatively light. After warm-up and pre-hab, I had them play Amoeba Serving for fun. I then gave them 5 minutes to work on aggressive serves. From there we shift to serving and passing quads (2 servers, 1 passer, 1 target), but only for 5 good passes per player.

Next I had them play a variation of the cooperative cross-court hitting drill. Instead of attacking cross-court, though, I had them attacking line. I had the primarily left side players (the three OHs and the Libero) against the Setter, OPP, and MBs. On the OH side the libero was fixed and everyone rotated around her to play setter in 3, defender in 6, and attacker in 4. On the other side the players all rotated through 3, 2, 1, and 6.

After a few minutes to develop a rhythm and have some good rallies, I shift it to a competitive game with blocking. The teams did their rotations after each rally rather than after they sent a ball over the net. Rallies were begun with alternating free balls, which kept the tempo quite high. It was a good exercise for working on hitting against a generally strong block and hitter coverage. They played 2 games to 11, both of which were tightly contested.

Training finished up with Speedball Winners in teams of 2 playing on half court.

Thoughts and observations
Once more the team responded positively to a loss in terms of examining their developmental needs and coming up with solutions.

During the last two exercises on Friday, the starting setter – still sidelined because of her back (though it was improving) – did a really good job of getting our O2 and OPP focused on transitioning and making good approaches. It paid off in some much better swings and well-disguised roll shots. I actually made a similar point to our young setter about her jump serve approach, as she was slowing it down when she wanted to short serve. These are things we’ll have to remain focused on moving forward – with those players and others.

Other stuff
The manager had a talk with our 2nd team coach about using some of his players in our training. Five names were discussed. He was going to speak with them over the weekend.

Handling guest players in training

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

Each type of guest player requires a different thought process.

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

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

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

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

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

Dealing with perfectionists

Once in training I had my Svedala team doing a defensive drill. It was a very repetitive digging exercise. I’m not a big fan of that block type training, but sometimes I use drills like that to examine things. Or maybe I want to work on some of the mental aspects of being a volleyball player.

This drill featured defenders in positions 1 and 5. They dug first a line attack and then a cross-court hit (or maybe it was the other way around). They had to individually reach a score of 15. For each good dig they earned a point. For an overpass they lost one.

My main motivation for running this particular exercise was to see where the players were at in terms of platform control while digging the ball. In other words, were they able to keep their platform pointed toward the central part of the court when they had to move/reach for a ball or when digging a line hit?

Answer: Not as well as I’d like.

The other thing I observed during this drill was just how much perfectionism there is in the team. I heard players yell and curse at themselves. They made faces. I even saw one slap the floor in frustration. It was quite the spectacle!

This sort of behavior is actually one of the reasons I like to use a lot of up-tempo, quick ball initiation activities. Players who are prone to be hard on themselves for mistakes have that process short-circuited when they immediately have to do something else. It encourages focusing on your next responsibility and on letting go of mistakes.

This, however, must go hand-in-hand with having a training atmosphere which is accepting of errors as part of the developmental process.

Teaching or facilitating?

Mark Lebedew once asked how much a coach is worth. In this post much of the focus is on how much player talent drives team success vs. other things, part of which is coaching. One commentator suggests that talent is 80% and coaching is only 5%, with the rest being organizational considerations. While I think the general point about the importance of talent in terms of winning and losing is valid, I would suggest that the influence of the coach is highly dependent on the level of play in question. The professional ranks and U14s are worlds apart from that perspective, to my mind.

This is all part of a larger discussion Mark and I have been involved in for a while now. It came up in the Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview of Redbad Strikwerda and again the interview with Giovanni Guidetti, and it’s a feature subject of a Volleyball Coaching Wizards Podcast episode. In that case the focus is more on which aspect of a coach’s role is more important, training (teaching) or match coaching. It’s an interesting debate.

At a certain point I began to think of myself as less a teacher and more a facilitator.

I consider myself an educator and very developmentally focused by nature, so this isn’t a question of teaching and not teaching. Rather it’s about the structure of the educational process and its effectiveness.

Retention is higher when a player figures something out for themselves rather than being told what to do. We’ve all seen it. You tell a player to do something 50 times and they don’t do it. Then something happens where they work it out in their own way and everything changes.

From that perspective, coaching becomes mainly about putting players in position to learn for themselves.

Does this mean that you never actually teach players anything? Of course not!

At the lower levels there is considerable need to instruct players on elements of the game and skill execution. As players progress, though, a lot of what they are doing is learning to adapt to varying situations and circumstances. And those adaptations necessarily change as their physical abilities and/or skills improve. We cannot possibly tell them what to do in every different scenario. The variations are effectively infinite.

Instead, what we need to give them is the tools to be able to handle what comes their way. This is basically the core of the random and game-like training ideas.

But it’s more than just an individual development thing. The same applies to teams as well.

You can tell a team to play a certain way. They will never play exactly that way, though. At least they shouldn’t! There’s too much variation in the game for one single set of rules to cover every situation. Players need to be able to adjust. We’re not training robots.

Players also need to learn to play with each other,  which is an on-going process. Granted, a lot of this happens when they first come together, but it’s not a one-time thing. As a season progresses the players will constantly be fine-tuning things along the way with respect to communication, positioning, play-calling, etc.

Our job, as I see it, is to facilitate all that.

It may seem like this is a semantic difference, but to my mind it alters the way one approaches things like how one develops a training plan.

Coaching Log – Sep 7, 2015

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

I returned to Sweden on August 30th. The weekend was primarily spent in a combination of meeting with the three American players in the squad and getting my new housing situation sorted out. The latter remains a work in progress.

Here’s how things went over the first week as far as the volleyball is concerned:

Monday
This training session, which was in our alternative gym, was all about starting the players getting to know each other and shaking off the off-season rust. As a result, I focused a lot on getting them all lots of touches and including a lot of game play. You can see the training plan I used here. I had the 10 players committed to the squad, plus one from last year who is expected to train periodically with the team and maybe help out with the coaching.

Tuesday
I had a team meeting immediately prior to practice. The focus was on the sorts of things I expect to see in training and what the players can expect from me.

The actual session, which was in our main gym, still had as a primary focus the “getting to know each other” and “shaking off the rust” elements. We had all the players from Monday, plus a young setter in the mix as well to make 12 (3 setters, 3 middles, 1 true right side, 2 true outsides, 1 libero, and 2 OH/Ls). That gave me the opportunity to do some 6 v 6 play for about the last hour of training. I used the 22 v. 22 game, and rotated the players around quite a bit.

The lead up to the 6 v 6 started with serving, and then serving and passing in groups of 6 on 2 courts. I included the middles and setters in the passing. Along the way, though, I learned that I should plan anything serving-focused for when we’re using the main court because when we’re using a multiple court set-up there isn’t enough approach room for the jump/jump float servers.

After serving and passing we moved to 6-person diagonal over-the-net team pepper.  I kept the players in the same 2-court split from before. They started with both sides attacking through 4, but they also worked 4 and 2, 2 and 2, and 2 and 4 to get all the angles. At then end I had them return to 4 and 4 and shift from cooperative to competitive. One of the groups was struggling during the first phase, so at a point I had them get together and talk through finding a solution.

From there we shifted to Speedball winners with 4 teams of 3 that I assigned. That started with backrow attacks only. About halfway through I opened it up.

Up to this point we hadn’t really talked about offensive play-calling, seam responsibility, switching, and other team related stuff. I wanted to force maximum communication and interaction as part of the team-building process by having them work that stuff out among themselves.

Wednesday
This day started with the players together in the fitness club doing their weights work. I haven’t given them a specific plan yet, so just had them carry on with the program they’ve been using. After a 30 minute break we were together in the main hall for training. I’m not overly thrilled by by that scheduling, but it does give the team a chance to workout together (they mostly do weights on their own in small groups because of individual schedule considerations), and I will probably use it to check on technique from time to time. It does mean, though, that Wednesday trainings likely won’t be ones where I’d want to do much technical work because they will already be somewhat fatigued.

The other aspect to Wednesday’s trainings is that we have about a 45 minute overlap with the 2nd team at the start of our session. Since physically they were already warmed-up, I had them start off with what I guess is called Brazilian 2-ball volley tennis (teams of 2, 2 balls in play, the team that wins both balls gets the point, else it’s a wash). It was something they could do on the side court that would get them mentally engaged and competitive. I had the 10 core players and they opted to split on the basis of age. The younger group go out to a lead, but eventually the older ones caught up and ended up winning 10-9.

After that fun, I shifted them to a less fun exercise – the Hard Drill with the count holds as long as the ball remains in play variation in force and with rotation (no fixed setter). They did it fairly easily initially, then I told them to do it again and only count “good reps” on legit swings and balls set with hands. That took them a while, and at one point I had them stop and meet to talk things over. Eventually they got it, though only because I didn’t halt rallies on 3m line violations. I told them next time we do the exercise those will be rally-enders, which they seemed to readily accept.

I then had them do some target serving on the main court, which was now free. They were required to complete 5 sets of serving first to Zone 1 and then to Zone 2, and 5 sets serving first to Zone 5 and then to Zone 4. They had to get both in that order to count. I did timed. Some of them were able to finish one pair of zones, but no one did both.

After that we played Bingo-Bango-Bongo. Since we only had teams of 5, I had to make some rules. The two defined libero’s were fixed in the back row and everyone else rotated around them. When the middles were front row the teams played 3 front, 2 back, but when the middles were back row they played 2 front, 3 back.

I meant to do another round of target serving after that, but forgot and instead went straight into another 5 v 5 game. It was one where the teams alternated 2 serves (from players in the same back row position – e.g. the setters). They then played to 7 points in this fashion. I think we played 4 total games with me flipping OHs and S/OPPs each game and having the setters switch sides after two games. I’d planned on going a bit longer, but they were looking a bit weary, so I called it quits a bit early.

Thursday
No training. This is our regular day off.

Friday
This is a 3 hour time slot, though we got going a little late because of train issues. I just had the core 10 players. After they warmed up, I put the team through a pair of agility tests (‘T’ and a cone touch exercise) and did a pair of sets of measurements. One was broad jump and then 3 consecutive broad jumps. The other was medicine ball throws from lying on the back, from one knee, and then from two knees. The main objective was to evaluate plyometric fitness. I wanted to also measure jumping from a loaded position (already squatted) vs. jumping from with the full counter motion, but there was a technology fail, so I’ll have to try that another time.

Once we got to the volleyball, the main focus was on getting the offensive terminology and signal calling sorted out. We did that initially between the setters and middles while the others were doing a team pepper exercise on the other court. We then brought that into a team context by doing some 5 v 5 game play, which always started with a serve. To say the serve reception passing wasn’t good might be an understatement.

Saturday
This was just a 2 hour slot, again with only the core group of 10. My main focus was on reinforcing the offensive stuff developed on Friday, so after warming-up with some serving and some half-court 2 v 2 with fixed setters, I had them play Speedball winners. In this case, the setters were fixed, so there were 4 teams of 2 which I designated. Additionally, I had the requirement that the non-passer/digger was to run a quick attack while the other hit either a 2nd tempo or high ball.

We then did some Second Chance game play 5 v 5 with the setters and liberos back row. Initially I had the libero’s in 6, so we constrained the attacking to 5/6. In this case the MBs took the second ball on a setter dig. After a while, I moved the liberos to 5 and had them take the 2nd ball (and said no hitting to 6). It turned out that the second chance proved quite beneficial for one of the right side players who started to go block-out after getting stuffed a few times.

From there I flipped the rotations so the setter and libero were both front row and all the hitters were back row and did Scramble. A couple of balls dropped unchallenged in the first round, but after I told them they’d get an extra 30 seconds for that happening there weren’t any in the two remaining rounds. The intensity level and communication definitely rose nicely.

Thoughts and observations
Most of the time when we’ve been playing games I’ve allowed the players a second serve if they miss the first. This is something I do to allow them to be more aggressive in their serving, while also reinforcing the desirability of not missing two serves in a row, which is something I talked with them about in Tuesday’s meeting.

I intentionally avoided doing much in the way of specific “coaching” during the first three training session. I wanted to help stimulate the integration and communication development process by putting them in situations where they needed to sort things out together rather than relying on me giving them instructions. That inevitably led to some confusion (especially between middles and setters on quick set play calling), but that forced them to talk with each other about it. On Friday I began to do more concentrated coaching, and increased on that on Saturday. It will be a feature from now on. By that I mostly mean quick comments/corrections to the players, though sometimes quick broader points to the whole team.

From here I need to start really working on the offensive tempo and the incorporation of the back row attack (pipe/bic) in to the scheme. At least one of my OHs looks likely to be quite effective. This, in turn, likely means defensively we play with the libero in 5. It seems likely that we have a pretty solid offense, and I think the defense will be pretty good. I need to take a closer look at our blocking in the week ahead, and serve reception definitely needs to improve.

Other stuff
I found out that I have to attend an all-day event on the 29th for coaches, managers, and team captains as part of the Elitserie kickoff. I think it will be partly promotional and partly a technical seminar of sorts. That’s a Tuesday, which means no training. Not ideal the week before our first league match, but decent timing for a break when considering we have a pre-season tournament in Copenhagen that runs Friday through Sunday. We’ll probably get in a make-up training on Thursday that week, though.

Parkinson’s Law definitely applies to practice planning!

Once, as I developed the training plans for the Svedala team, I recalled Parkinson’s Law. It goes something like this.

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

I’ve written before about the amount of time you should allocate to practice planning. Part of that discussion was how easily the task could consume crazy amounts of time if not properly constrained. I experienced that while coaching at Exeter. I could find find myself spending all afternoon making up that evenings practice plan. Then, I had to remind myself of that a couple of times the first week of training in Sweden.

It was so tempting for me as I got started with a new team in a new environment to let the practice planning suck me in and not let me go.

You may be thinking, “But you were a professional volleyball coach. That was your job!”

That’s true, but that doesn’t mean I should let one task eat of a major part of my day. Efficiency in planning is just as important as developing an efficient training plan. There are a lot of other things for a coach to do. Watching video comes immediately to mind!

Training Plan: 11 players, just games

Priorities: Shake off the rust with lots of touches, start the process of the players getting to know each other at the beginning of a new season, get some initial impressions

Training time: 2 hours

Space: 2 courts

Players: 11 (2 setters)

Notes: Because set-up and take down were included in the allocated time, and some amount of time was necessarily allocated to introductions and initial discussion, the actual training period was somewhat less than 2 hours.

– – – The Plan – – –

Warm-up: No isolated warm-up.

Cooperative 1 vs 1 and 1 vs 1 w/fixed setter: Set up 4 games on 1 v. 1 and one game of 1 v 1 with a fixed setter. The idea is to get to 6 good pass-set-downball sequences. As soon as one group gets there, they all rotate in a clockwise fashion. If no one gets there in the time limit, rotate anyway.
11-player singles rotation3-person and 4-person pepper w/fixed setter: On one court is two groups of 3-person rotating over-the-net pepper. On the other court is a 2 v. 2 pepper with a fixed setter. The team’s two setters are market A and B. Again, play to six good pass-set-hit sequences (this time with jumping), or a the time limit. Rotation for the non-setters is clockwise. The setters switch positions each rotation.

11-player peppers

5-person and 6-person player winners: Each court has a game of Player Winners on it, one with 5 players and one with 6 players. Play for 5 minutes, then move the top 2 from the 5-person court to the 6-person, and the bottom 3 from the 6-person court the other way (now making the 5 a 6 and the 6 a 5). Play 5 more minutes, then send the top 3 from the 6-person court to the 5-person court, and the bottom 2 from the 5-person court to the 6-person court. Play another 5 minutes, then repeat the process from after the first round. Play one last round of 5 minutes.

Winners 3: Finish with standard Winners (3s in this case) Start with back court attacks only, then shift to allowing front court attacks as well.

– – – Observations – – –

The first two exercises went quicker than expected. As a result it was desirable to add a 5th exercise. The initial thought was to play Winners 4s, but instead Neville Pepper was used. The 9 non-setters were split up into three roughly equal teams. They were the teams to play through the games. The setters were used in a fixed fashion, switching sides when the challenge side won a rally.