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.
Life is definitely not easy for me this week. As I have been documenting (see this and this post), the university teams I coach are going through try-outs now. Most of the work of player identification took place on Friday. This week is more about refining player analysis and starting to fit together line-ups. That stuff can be tricky enough when you have to worry about fielding a single team out of a group of players. Imagine if you had to field two teams out of that same group.
That is my current situation. This season we will field men’s and women’s teams in both the Premier League and Western Division 2A of BUCS. We did the same thing last season (though it was Division 1 rather than the Premier League), basically using a split squad system whereby everyone trained together, with the first team players taking the higher league matches and the second team players the lower league.
This year we will do the same again for the men. Not much choice in the matter as the club simply doesn’t have enough male players to run two full separate competitive teams. Numbers are definitely not a problem on the women’s side. The issue there is where the talent split falls. Are there enough players of comparable level to make a 10-12 person first team? If so, running two separate teams in possible. Otherwise, like with the men, it will have to be a joint group as it was last year.
And of course running these joint groups creates its own set of challenges. How do you develop trainings that bring the weaker players along while also pushing the stronger players the way they need to be pushed?
These are the things very much on my mind at the moment.
I previously told the harrowing tale of expecting 20-something women to try-out for the Exeter university women’s team I coached and ending up with 40-something. After making many, many cuts, we got down to 17 players to invite back. That’s along with 15 on the men’s side.
These were not expected to be the final rosters, however. It was anticipated that additional players would turn up in following training sessions. Those were players who hadn’t arrived to campus yet, didn’t hear about the trial, had a conflict, etc. That meant I had to plan these second sessions in much the same manner I did the first. By that I mean in terms of being flexible enough to account for an uncertain number of players. It was potentially something into the 20s.
One big constraint for the follow up was court space. These sessions were in our primary training facility, which had just one court and very little room around it. Basically, everything happened in the space of the court itself. Fortunately, we were up to 90 minutes for each group. We only had 60 minutes for the first.
For the women especially, the first try-out was mainly about cutting those not up to the standard because of the massive numbers. Having been able to cull that list, this session was about getting a good look at what we really had. It also provided a chance to start to think in terms of team composition. Yes, we may have needed to evaluate some more new faces, but it would be a minority part of the group, and as such it wouldn’t force a different approach.
Key areas of focus
It will come as no surprise that the two biggest areas I wanted to focus on to have a serious evaluation were setter and middle hitter. I haven’t seen too many situations where identifying OHs and OPPs, along with a libero, is a major challenge.
In the men’s case we had two guys back who set the year before. In an ideal world we’d probably want a new setter coming in, but we could get along without one. Only one of our primary MBs returned from the year before – maybe with one other – so that was really an area in need of new bodies. In the women’s case we lost all of our setters and primary middle players. We had one returner who could set and one who could play MB, but we were probably best if they didn’t have to.
So with those priorities in mind – and given the requirement to be flexible in terms of the number of players to be accommodated – here’s what I came up with. Start with dynamic warm-up, then move on to pepper. If the numbers allow, do rotating partner pepper to get the players mixed up working together. Then do serving & passing, with setters in setting the ball to 4. From there, on to hitting by position. Finish up with some version of winners, depending on numbers.
Shock of shocks, I didn’t have to deal with an excess of players. In fact, both teams were missing a couple of bodies from those called back, though there was one new male player. That let me basically run things to plan. With the men’s team I didn’t include setters in the passing drill because I pretty much know who they are, but instead shifted to a targeted good pass number (30), with a -1 for an overpass and back to 0 on a no-effort ball (they had to restart once). For winners I had the women play 4s because of the higher numbers (15), and the men play 3s on a narrow court.
There were two other sessions for both teams that week. I needed to make further cuts, at least on the women’s side, at the end of that span.
Once upon a time I mentioned a challenge I had in running a pair of tryouts for the Exeter university teams I coached. 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. That’s 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. Then I had to have 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.
Since I had access to the bigger sports hall, I really wanted to see serving and passing. 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 more than about 14 in the drill (6 passers, 2 targets, 6 servers). That meant 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 players were serving – and then later hitting – I needed to make sure their shoulders were sufficiently warm. 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.
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.
We ran four-person pepper 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 ideal 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.
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.
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.
The week after that initial tryout we had sessions on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. They were a combination of a continuation of the try-outs and the start of training for that year’s teams. The anticipation was we might see a handful of additional players turn up who either didn’t know about the trials, weren’t on campus yet, had a conflict, or whatever.
I was personally looking forward to being able to really take a close look at the new players that week after the initial view. Especially with the women, it was almost impossible to do that during the tryout. 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 could do that and start to think in terms of team composition.
This is a story from back when I coached the teams at the University of Exeter (U.K.).
I have to run two try-out sessions this afternoon for the university teams I coach. The first is for the women. The second is for the men. Each will be an hour in length. We were supposed to have 3 hours, but somehow had the last hour we requested lopped off. We only found out yesterday! I will be the only coach there, though I should have a bit of support from returning players. At least I will for the women’s session, anyway.
How many prospective players will turn up is a big question mark. Last year we had about 24 women and 18 men on the first day of the 3-day trials. On the men’s side we took things a bit slow. We did not feel rushed to make any immediate cuts, but we wanted to try to trim the numbers for the women right away in the case of the obvious No’s. We cut about half a dozen after that first session, but ended up with something like 26 players for the second one!
No surprise if something similar happens this year. Yesterday was the last of the club’s “taster” sessions. They use them to introduce themselves prospective new members. There were about 80 of them, mostly female.That’s been the clear pattern in my time at Exeter.
I was on-hand for the taster (the third and final held during Freshers’ Week) to scout out prospective BUCS players and to advise the club leadership on ways to run the session more smoothly (different drills and games they could employ). We don’t normally see a lot in the way of likely BUCS contenders at the tasters, as mainly the experienced ones go straight to try-outs, but sometimes one or two will turn up worth having a look at. Ended up being a few more than that this year – particularly for the women.
Today’s the real test, though. This is when we find out if the rumors about this player or that player which always seem to be flying around are actually true.
The situation is this. The women return only three from last year’s BUCS semifinalists, while the men have back four of the guys who featured in their victory over Durham in the 7th place playoff at Final 8s, plus a few of the second team members. I saw a few women during the tasters who could probably be in the team, potentially even as starters. Wasn’t quite so dazzled by the men, but maybe a couple of squad players.
Adding complexity to all this is the fact that we have to consider things from the perspective of two teams for each gender. The club runs teams in the new BUCS Premier League (teams promoted up from Division 1) and in Division 2. Last year we just trained them all together as one unit and had the second string group play the Div2 matches. Don’t know yet if we’ll do the same this year. The gap between Premier League and Div2 will be markedly bigger than the one between Div1 and Div2.
Fortunately, we don’t have to make final decisions today. We have sessions the first half of next week as well to be able to take a longer look.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.