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Tag Archive for volleyball try-out

Volleyball tryouts for high school teams – some ideas

Are you thinking about high school volleyball tryouts? For a lot of coaches it’s their least favorite part of each season. I think all the high school coaches I’ve interviewed for Volleyball Coaching Wizards have said that. Still, it’s not something you can probably avoid, so might as well make the most of it!

At the time of this writing, one of my former men’s players from Exeter University was just named head coach for a local high school team. Up to now he’s been a Juniors club coach, so this is his first time coaching high school. As you can imagine, he’s anxious about running his first volleyball tryouts as the boss. He actually sent me a long text describing his plan. Here’s what it looked like.

Tryouts over 3 days. ~2 hours each day.

I want them there at 8:40am to 3 person pepper, but tryouts won’t begin officially until 9. I can start to evaluate their personalities/hustle/passing/overhand sets at this time. I’m thinking around 24-26 girls will be trying out for varsity – All juniors and seniors. Some juniors are electing to try out for JV due to the competition and our sophomores aren’t very developed yet.

Day 1, I’ll split girls randomly into groups. Groups again on day 2 and 3, but these would be based on stats from day 1. Alternate setters between groups for them to set from great and not so great passes. Day 1 – 9am: Focus on physical fitness and basic skills. Capture speed, agility, stationary jump reach, jump approach reach etc. Then move on to the basic skills. Passing and hand sets from free balls, 10 serves, 10 hits off their own toss and then 10 hits each from a setter. Do you think I should evaluate and give jump floats and jump topspin serves a high value when ranking? If we have enough evaluators, we’ll have two courts for day 2 and 3. If only one court, I might increase the tryouts by an hour.

Day 2: Start with serve receive/passing evaluations, using your 3-2-1-0 scoring system. Serve receive. Free ball passes to target, focused on tempo. Down ball passing. Etc. Then transition to hitting evaluations. 10 hits from coach toss. 10 hits to target from setter (toss ball to setter), and then 10 hits from set, this time the pass is from the girls. I’d like to evaluate block somehow (footwork, reading sets etc). We can evaluate setters and hitters at the same time during this. Can also get a feeling for hitting IQ if sets are tight to the net or out of system. If time is left, transition to 4v4/6v6, alternating setters. Evaluate on everything including awareness and athleticism.

Day 3: Warm up drills. Hitting. Serve receive. No more than 30 minutes. 6v6 on two courts. Games to 12. Setters stay. Teams of 5 rotate. Evaluate the “whole package” during this period.

I asked the new coach a question. What is his priority? Is it to pick the best team, or is it to take a more long-term development focus? In this case it about picking the best team. He told me there’s a fair bit of talent in the group.

My immediate response was to suggest some big cuts. Since he’s trying to pick the best team there’s a lot of the plan that can be left out.

The physical assessments are really a waste of time. If you want them for planning weight training work or something like that, get it later when you have the team picked. They don’t help you pick the best team. You can see how high players jump and how fast they move in other activities. Better to free up the time for volleyball activities.

You can toss out a lot of the basic skill assessment as well. These are volleyball tryouts, not volleyball skill tryouts. You want the best players, which isn’t necessarily the same as saying the most skilled players.

My suggestion was to do a lot more game play. Start with small-sided games and progressively work up to full 6 v 6, if you want to see the players in that situation. If you do your ratings in game situations you get a much better quality evaluation than if you do them off very controlled reps. As one of the USA Volleyball technical staff said once, ratings like for serve receive taken from game play are more predictive of how someone will pass in a match then ones from drills.

This isn’t to say you should only play games. If you can, that’s great. But sometimes you have too many numbers or other considerations forcing you to do certain types of things. If so, then you have to do what makes sense for your situation. You do want to make it as close to game-like as possible, though.

If you want some ideas for games and drills you can include in your volleyball tryouts, have a look at these volleyball tryout drills. Also, definitely check out the guide I put together. It should give you some useful ideas.

 

volleyball tryouts guide

Ideas for volleyball tryouts planning

I’ve been through my share of volleyball tryouts. I’ve done them for high school teams. I’ve done them for Juniors teams. I did them for the teams I coached at the University of Exeter in England. I’ve also worked youth national program tryouts for both England and the U.S.

Based on that experience, here are a few ideas for volleyball tryouts to help you with yours.

Make sure you can track the players

It’s really hard to do good evaluations if you don’t know who’s who. USA Volleyball gives trialists numbered t-shirts. Some coaches pin numbers on the players. Some try name tags, but in my experience they tend to fall off once the kids get sweaty. Also, they can be hard to read from a distance.

When I was at Exeter I personally found that having photos with names worked best. One year we had printed sheets. Another year we used an iPad where we used an app to add names to player photos. That let us just flip through. This helped me a ton because I struggle to remember names without seeing them in print.

Make evaluation recording quick

Regardless of which way you go, make sure it’s easy for you to take your visual evaluation of a player and put it down in print. In other words, you need to be able to quickly, and easily find the kid on your evaluation sheet. If you can’t you’ll spend too much time looking. That means less time evaluating.

A good way to make that quick and easy is to group players so they are all close together on your evaluation sheet. For example, when USA Volleyball runs High Performance tryouts the coaches put players into groups by T-shirt number. That way they only have to focus on a small part of their evaluation form rather than trying to find players scattered over four different sheets.

Think about this as you plan, especially if you expect a large group.

Consider using video

If you have the capability, think about taking video of your tryout. If you can’t get the whole thing, then maybe you can at least focus on some key areas and/or activities.

I’ll admit, this isn’t something I’ve done yet myself. The next time I run a tryout, though, I will definitely look at doing so. I think there are some real advantages. You may be able to see some things you did see in-person, which could be very useful if you’re short on evaluators. It’s kind of like watching match video after the fact.

Also, the video could come in handy in the case of a player/parent selection dispute. Having video evidence to back up your decision would be nice.

Have contingency plans

Unexpected things can happen during tryouts. I once found myself in a situation at Exeter with twice the number of trialists (or more) I expected. Talk about having to do some quick adjustments!

You need to be ready for things to not go exactly as expected. What if one of your coaches is sick? What if you have to few (or too many) of a certain position? What if you can’t get internet access? What if the printer fails?

Over the course of your career all of these things – and probably more – will happen. If you’re ready for the unexpected, you’ll still be able to run a good volleyball tryout.

There’s a lot that goes in to running a really good session. There are just a few ideas for volleyball tryouts planning on the more administrative side of things. For thoughts and ideas in terms of what to do on-court, check out the volleyball tryout games & drills guide I put together.

And then it all went sideways!

The other day I mentioned a challenge I had in running a pair of tryouts for the university teams I coach. Specifically, I had to plan something despite not knowing how many players I would have, or how many helpers. I had only an hour allocated for each gender, inclusive of introduction and warm-up (and any lingering registration stuff). So basically, I had to come up with a flexible warm-up activity that could account for players trickling in from getting registered, and then about 40 minutes worth of primary drills/games.

A real coach’s dream situation, eh?

I basically took a end-to-beginning approach in my planning. I wanted to end with some kind of play. Given my expectation of large numbers and the small amount of time, 6 v 6 was out. I needed something that could reasonably accommodate player counts in the 20s on a single court. I decided to go with two half-court Speedball games going side-by-side. Depending on the numbers, I could have both mini courts be doubles, both be triples, or one for each.

The other main thing I wanted to be able to see was serving and passing – especially while I had access to the bigger sports hall. For that I picked the 2-sided serving & passing drill. It’s one that allows for some flexibility in numbers involved. That said, however, you probably don’t want to use more than about 14 players in the drill (6 passers, 2 targets, 6 servers), so I needed to have something on the side for excess players and to thereby have a rotation through the drill. That would have to be something like a pepper or defensive drill which could be done without the net in a fairly confined area. I decided that if I had helpers of a reasonable caliber I would have a defense station, but otherwise go with group pepper.

Now, if I’m going to have players serve – and then later hit – I need to make sure their shoulders are sufficiently warmed-up. To accomplish that, I decided to split the group in half. One would do a partner serving warm-up on the net, the other would do partner pepper off the court. After a certain amount of time (probably 5 minutes max) I would have them flip.

That leaves the initial warm-up. My plan was to have the returners lead the group in dynamic warm-up after the introduction. By that point we should have most people, if not all, through the registration process and ready to go. Plus, it would give me a chance to see who takes it seriously and who just goes through the motions.

That was the basic plan going in. Here’s the reality.

The women
I ended up with what must have been close to 50 women’s trialists!

That mandated a rapid change of approach. We had to make on-the-fly cuts, which I wouldn’t otherwise do. Fortunately, we had more gym space than we’d though, so rather than saying to a player “Sorry, you’re out” we could simply move them over to the other side of the curtain where they could continue working with some of the helpers who were on-hand. Yes, those players probably figured out pretty quickly what the situation was, but it was a bit more gentle than having to just ask them to leave the gym outright.

Four-person pepper was run after doing a dynamic warm-up. That was when we started culling the more obvious No’s. I then had them doing some serving – kind of like a pre-match warm-up thing. Definitely not idea given the numbers we still had, but it was an easy way to identify more players just not up to the required standard.

Luckily, having the extra gym space availed us of a second court. Because of a curtain situation it wasn’t full-sized, but we managed. I split the group in half and sent one set of players over there to hit, keeping the other to do serving and passing, swapping the groups at a certain point. We were able to get down to 27 players left in the mix for the last 20 minutes, during which I had them play Speedball, more or less as outlined above.

The men
Things were much more reasonable for the men. We only had 20 of them to manage, which was just a little more than we had last season.

Because they had largely been peppering and stuff on the other side of the curtain before getting going, after doing a dynamic warm-up I had them go straight into doing some serving. As with the women, I also had them doing serving and passing, and finished with Speedball. Because I had a bit of extra time, though, I also had them run through hitting lines going through 4 and 2.

Outcomes
I met with the leadership after the men’s try-out to discuss who would be invited back for this week’s try-out continuation. On the women’s side we cut the list from that 27 still involved at the end down to 17. On the men’s side we ended up with 15.

Moving forward
This week we have sessions on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. They are a combination of a continuation of the try-outs and the start of training for this year’s teams. The anticipation is that we might see a handful of additional players turn up who either didn’t know about last week’s trial, weren’t on campus yet (school starts today), had a conflict, or whatever. As a result, we may yet end up cutting some of the players who survived Friday’s culling.

I am personally looking forward to being able to really take a close look at the new players this week. Especially with the women, it was almost impossible to do on Friday. As I told someone that evening, I was so focused on who we should cut that I didn’t have the opportunity to really look at the Yes and Maybe players to see what they had to offer. Now I can do that and start to think in terms of team composition.

What do you say to the last kid cut?

Here’s something I thought was worth tossing out to my fellow coaches. I want to see what kind of advice they would offer up in this situation. A while back I got the following message from my brother:

So, what do you do when your daughter, who is younger than everyone else at tryouts is the last cut as a freshman? What can she do? Where can she play to get better? She’s upset and feels like its pointless to tryout next year.

So what would you tell the parent of a young player who just missed out on making your school team?

Addendum: John Kessel has a post on this subject on the USA Volleyball website. Think of it as a letter to a cut player. It includes the following:

“The fact is, ending that dream is your choice really, and not in the control of the coach who just cut you. If you like playing, then simply come up with other ways to play until the next round of school or club programming.”

So what do you say to the last player you cut? For that matter, what about the others? Do you have a specific way you handle that situation? When I interviewed Volleyball Coaching Wizard Tom Turco (winner of nearly 20 state high school championships), he said he had conversations with every kid. He felt he owed them all at least that much. Others have said something similar.

What about you?

Volleyball Try-Out Drill Ideas

Running volleyball try-outs is obviously about assessing players. Oftentimes, however, it’s also a question of managing a large number of players. If you don’t have to manage a lot of players, you can run virtually a regular training session. You just have to incorporate drills and games covering all of the key things you want to look at in rating the available players. As such, I’m will focus here on doing assessments as efficiently as possible. I’ll do that by providing volleyball try-out drill ideas that could be used to look at all the major skills.

Warm-up
As I discussed in Are your warm-ups wasting valuable time?, warm-ups tend to be quite badly handled. This can be especially true in a try-out situation where you want to get into assessment as quickly as possible. Warm-ups should be considered part of that process, not something which simply prepares players for it. I favor going right into basic ball-handling drills, especially ones with a movement element. Even simple pepper drills are quite useful here.

Serving
Chances are this is something you don’t want to spend all that much time addressing. Generally, we can fairly quickly judge the caliber of a player’s serving just by watching them do a couple of reps. To that end, just lining them up on either end of the court and having them serve back and forth like a pre-game warm-up may suffice. Doing this for a couple of minutes should allow you to give each player a watch.

If you want to narrow things down, you can take it a step further by introducing a goal. For example, depending on the level of play, you could set an objective of 10 serves in a row, or some number of serves to a given zone. I’d suggest a time limit to keep a drill from running on too long. If you have the players who reach that objective step out of the drill, you’ll get a good idea of the stronger vs. weaker servers.

Passing
There are plenty of possible serve receive exercises that can serve as volleyball try-out drill ideas. What you’re probably looking to judge here is which players are aggressive vs. passive, loud vs. quiet calling the ball, movement to the ball, and passing mechanics.A simple pass-and-follow shuttle (pass the ball and go to the end of the line on the other side) will give you an idea of simple ball-handling skill.

You want to see what players look like when receiving serve, though, to get a full assessment. A big deciding factor in how you set that up is the likely quality of the servers. If the players aren’t able to serve consistently, then you need to either do coach-initiated serves or use tossed/thrown balls in place of serves. Perhaps use something like passing triplets. If the players can serve, then probably the best way to get as many players on the court as you can is to run a 2-sided serving-passing drill.

Setting
You can probably get at least a basic idea of someone’s setting ability by watching them pepper or go through a setting shuttle such as the one mentioned for passing above. To assess a player for a setting role, however, you need to see them actually set to hitters. You also want to see how they move on the court. Setting to a hitting line is a simple solution to the former. Adding the requirement that the set comes off a pass adds the element of seeing the setter move around. You’ll want to put the setter candidate(s) in a game-like situation to finish the assessment, though.

Hitting
A look at players in pepper will give you an idea of where a player is at in terms of armswing mechanics and ability to control an attack. Simple hitting lines provide an assessment opportunity to look at hitters in terms of approach, timing, jump, swing mechanics, and the like. If you don’t have a consistent setter on-hand you may need to have the hitting done off a toss. To go beyond basics, though, you need to put hitters in game-like situations. That will let you see how they handle the variability and how they actually attack the defense.

Blocking
In many cases a quick look at the relative heights of your players provides a good idea of blocking ability. Going beyond that, however, you want to look at a prospective blocker’s footwork, quickness along the net, and ability to properly position and time their block. The footwork and speed side of things can be seen through simple blocking movement work at the net. The rest of it requires facing a hitter, though. That can be accomplished by putting blockers against a hitting line, perhaps requiring some additional initial movement (like MB closing to the pin blocker). Things like recognition, anticipation, and the other mental parts of blocking will only come by watching players in game-play situations.

Defense
You can probably get a significant sense of a player’s defensive abilities and mentality by watching them in game-like situations. That shows you who is aggressive and who is passive. It may also give you an idea of who is a lateral type defender (good for middle backs in most systems) and who is good at moving forward (good for wing defenders in many systems), as well as which players are able to read situations and hitters. To specifically assess dig control, you can put players through a coach-on-X type of drill. That’s where the coach hits balls at a group of players. This tends to be better for smaller groups, however, or situations where there are multiple coaches with room to spread out into different groups. Having players dig against hitting lines tends not to be very useful because it’s usually not very realistic.

Game-Play
As noted, there are some things you’ll want to assess which are best done in game situations. A good way to do this in a situation which moves players quickly through is something like winners. For a large group, you could split the court down the middle and run two sets of winners-3s on the same court. That gets 12 players on the court in a situation where they are likely to get more contacts than if they were playing 6 v 6. If you have a smaller group, a winners variation where you use backrow attacks only lets you see players having to cover more area, but in a situation where the attacks are less potent, leading to generally longer rallies than if the hitters were attacking on the net.

If you want to run 6 v 6 and have a large group, you can do a something like Neville Pepper. In this case, one team of six stays on for a fixed period of time. The teams on the other side rotate after each rally. You can also do a wave variation in which you rotate 3-player lines through each few points either from one end or from both ends.

Setting Priorities
In the end, what you pick to run as volleyball try-out drill ideas must be based on your selection priorities. It’s just like training priorities to develop a practice plan. If you’re looking to pick 12 players from a group it is different than if you’ve already got 8 returners and just want to pick players who fill some needs. Similarly, it’s different picking varsity vs. junior varsity. So start your try-out planning process by thinking about the sorts of things you need to identify and assess. Then work from there.

More volleyball try-out drill ideas

Hopefully, these volleyball try-out drill ideas at least give you a starting point to develop a good plan. A single article like this can’t really go into a lot of depth, though. That’s why I put together a booklet that goes further.

Get your copy now.