Tag Archive for wash drills

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 called 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.

Game: Pin Hitter Challenge

Synopsis: This game pits the OH and OPP hitters against each other in a kill challenge to work on being able to score against full-team defense, but also allows for working on blocking and defense.

Age/Skill Level: This game is suitable for intermediate and advanced players.

Requirements: 2 teams, court, balls

Execution: Playing 6 v 6 in a single rotation, one side receives all serves. The setter is back row and alternates setting the OH and the OPP. If one of them scores and the other does not, that hitter earns a point. If neither scores or both score, then it is a wash. The defensive team plays the second ball over when they make digs to keep rallies going. Each new rally begins with a serve. Play to a certain number of points.


  • You could designate only high ball attacks if that’s a specific area of focus you want.
  • Blockers can be given specific instructions as to what to take/give.
  • You can have your defense play something other than the usual one to act as an upcoming opponent or work on developing a new system.

Additional Comments:

  • I saw this demonstrated by the USA National Team coaching staff at the HP Coaches Clinic.
  • It’s not a bad idea to keep hitting stats while doing this game, to get the added information above and beyond who wins.
  • Having the defensive team play the second ball over keeps them engaged and allows for work on hitting in transition in a more controlled fashion than going off a 3rd touch contact.

Problem Solving: Making the B side more competitive

The question of how to get the most out of volleyball games and drills which pit the starting six against the non-starters is one every coach faces at some point along the way. In some cases you can reasonably ask the question as to whether you even want to have an A team/B team split, but instead have mixed groups. That’s a discussion for a separate post, however.

The focus here is on situations where there is a clear drop in level between those in the first string and those in the second string. This creates issues of competitiveness in training game situations and/or a differentiation in training needs. In this article I focus on how to make games more competitive. In a later post I’ll look at how drills can be designed to be maximally effective.

Bolstering the B side

One way you can make your second string more competitive is to add a player or two to that side of the court. This could be an assistant coach. In the case of women’s teams, perhaps you can bring in a men’s team player (or vice versa, in some cases). It could be a local outside player of some sort.

The problem with these solutions is when it means leaving a member of the squad on the sidelines. It’s both developmentally problematic and a major morale consideration. Plugging someone in to make the necessary six or to play an unfilled position is one thing. Replacing a player with someone outside the squad because they are more competitive with the A team is another.

Differentiated ball initiation

In some games external ball initiation is a feature. That’s when the coach sends in a ball they control. These provide an opportunity to change the intensity of those balls to balance out the competitiveness. For example, the A team could receive an attacked ball while the B team received more of a down ball or a free ball, depending on the difference in level. The idea is to have the first ball put the teams on roughly equal footing in terms of first contact challenge.

Make sure you don’t alter the focus point of the game, though. Take the example of working on free ball offense. You don’t want to have one side getting free balls and the other getting attacked balls. Rather, what you can do is make the free balls more challenging for the stronger side. Do this by making them lower and faster. Put them in places where players have to move more. Locate them in seems between players. Things like that.

Mixed scoring systems

Playing A vs B under a standard set of scoring rules will (hopefully!) result in the A team winning a lot. That might make the first teamers feel good (through probably only to a degree). It isn’t going to do very much to the morale of the second teamers, though. You want the second string to feel like they can compete. They need to have a reasonable chance to win for you to get the most out of them. To do that you’ll need a scoring system which levels the playing field.

Of course one way to do this is to spot the B team a certain number of points. For example, they could start at 7 in a set to 25. I’m not a big fan of this sort of thing, though. By handicapping the first string you’re basically highlighting how much worse you perceive the second string to be.

What I like better is to have different sets of scoring rules. Here’s one example of this. I had a situation where there was a group of experienced adult players going up against a group of juniors players. Because the levels of play were so far apart, I said the experienced players could only score a point on a kill, while the inexperienced players would score as normal. It made for a quite close game.

You can set up these mixed scoring games like you would a bonus point system. This offers the opportunity to have the A team work on specific developmental needs. Meanwhile, the B team works on their own. For example, if you want the A team more focused on quick attacks they could get a bonus for successful execution, while perhaps the B team gets bonus points for just running the quick even if no kill is registered. Alternatively (or additionally), the B team could get points for keeping the A team out of system with challenging serves.

Wash drills also offer an opportunity for mixed scoring systems. A simple example of this would be in an otherwise normal game to require the A team to win two rallies in a row to score a point, perhaps with the second rally initiated by a challenging ball from the coach, as described above. Alternatively, the wash rules could be adjusted to make things more competitive. For example, in Bingo-Bango-Bongo you could require the A team to win three rallies in a row to earn the right to serve, but the B team only has to win two rallies.

Think about your priorities and be creative

Creativity is something you’ll need to employ to find ways to make your non-starters competitive with your starters in training games. Think about your overall priorities, as well as the priorities you may have for each set of players involved. Your second string is probably going to be your first string some day, so you don’t want to overlook their development while you’re getting your first team the playing time together you think they need. It’s not a question of finding new games to play. It’s just a question of finding the right ways to play the games so all players benefit the maximum possible.

Washing to increase scrimmage intensity

Over the years I’ve come to really dislike watching my teams go through simple scrimmage games in training. The intensity level feels too low and there isn’t enough actual play going on. I didn’t like it when I was coaching at Brown and I don’t like it these days coaching at Exeter. I find myself either feeling frustrated at the slow pace or getting twitchy wishing there was more action, more player ball contacts.

Last night was a perfect example. I was running a training session for the university women ahead of them playing in South West Championships this weekend. Unfortunately, due to exams the numbers were low – only 7 players, plus one representative of the men’s team. Naturally, that meant doing a bunch of 4 v 4 stuff in the game-play elements of the session.

At the end of practice I had them play a straight game, but narrowed the court by about a third to encourage longer rallies. After a couple minutes, though, I couldn’t take it anymore. It was just too slow. To up the intensity I added an element to make it a wash game rather than just standard scoring. I did that by initiating a ball to the team that won the serve-initiated rally. A team needed to win both rallies to score a point. The team winning the first rally served the next ball.

The result of adding the wash element was that after about 25 minutes of play the game ended 7-5. Had I thought about it ahead of time, I might have started the score to have it finish at 25, but this was an on-the-fly adjustment, as we sometimes need to make as coaches. I think the players would tell you adding the wash element made the game more intense and fun. I know I liked it a lot better as a coach.

Coaching Concept: Tennis serving

As coaches, we sometimes have to walk a fine line. We want to encourage players to serve tough. We also, though want sufficiently good service to facilitate our drills and games in training. You can borrow from tennis to help with that.

I’m talking about the idea of a let serve. If the player misses their first serve, they get a second. This allows them to take chances with the first ball, which has the secondary benefit of challenging the receiver(s) that much more. It also reinforces the idea I expressed in my When the Serve Needs to Be In post about not missing consecutive serves.

To the latter point, there should be some negative consequence for missing the second serve. For example, I sometimes use the let serve approach when running a Winners 3s game. Normally, a player who misses is replaced by a new server. With tennis serving, if they missed the second serve they were likewise replaced, and then hit with two push-ups as a pattern interruption.

This is not something you can use in all situations. In drills or games where second serves can be quickly initiated, though, it makes sense.

Player push-back

I have, on a couple occasions, received push-back or questions about this approach. It usually comes from the thought that accepting missed serves leads to more missed serves in matches. Or at least it could. This is not an unreasonable point.

I respond to the concern in a couple of ways.

First, I don’t normally use the tennis serve concept when approaching competition.

Second, I don’t use it in all games. Also, I generally don’t allow a re-serve for serves into the net. We’re aiming for positive errors – long or wide. Net serves are not positive errors.

Third, there are three long-term benefits to allowing a missed first serve. As I noted above, it helps develop more aggressive serves and forces the passers to face tougher serves. The passers also receive more balls overall. Additionally, it promotes more rallies.

None of these things have much impact in the short term. Over time, though, they can definitely pay dividends.

Game: High Ball to Receive

Synopsis: This game works on hitters being more aggressive in challenging the block, which also means a focus on good hitter coverage, with additional work on serve receive and free ball attacking.

Age/Skill Level: This game is suitable for intermediate to advanced teams.

Requirements: Two teams, full court, a couple balls

Execution: This game begins with a coach-initiated ball to one team. That team must then run an outside or right side attack off a high set (no quick or faster tempo sets allowed on this first ball – and the ball must be hit, not tipped or rolled). The rally is played out from there in normal fashion (any set is permitted after the first ball). The winner of that rally earns the advantage to receive first a served ball, then a free ball. A point is awarded to the team which wins each of those rallies (not just the receiving team). The next coach-initiated ball goes to the other team. Play 8 points before rotating.


  • You could make this a wash game by forcing a team to win both the serve and free ball rallies (either just the receiving team or the either team).
  • To work on weak rotations you can require a team to get 8 points before rotating (or some number of big points under a wash system).
  • This could be used just as easily for small-sided games.

Additional Comments:

  • The idea behind the initial high ball attack is to get players to be aggressive about attacking the block (looking for seems, going high hands, etc.). As such, players should be required to take a legitimate swing at the ball and not permitted to tip, roll, or otherwise use an off-speed shot.
  • Encouraging the challenging of the block also puts a premium on hitter coverage.
  • I saw this game used by UCLA.

Game: 2 in 2

Synopsis: This is a simple, likely fast-moving, game which requires players to score in both serving and serve receive situations.

Age/Skill Level: This game is suitable for all levels.

Requirements: Two teams, full court, 2 balls

Execution: This is a standard serve-initiated game with alternating pairs of serves (Team A serves once, then Team B serves once) using a wash scoring system. A team must win both the service rally and the serve receive rally to score a point. If one team cannot win both rallies, no points are scored and the two serves are repeated. Teams rotate each time a point is scored.


  • Depending on how long you want this game to go on, you could run it to a set point objective (15, 25, etc.), or just on a timed basis.
  • You can change the rotation rule to require a team to win a point before it can rotate (rather than both teams rotate together).
  • This could be used just as easily for small-sided games.

Additional Comments:

  • If you don’t count missed serves as rally wins for the receiving team you will encourage players to serve more aggressively. Just make sure the players don’t miss serves consecutively per the rules.
  • Requiring a team to score a big point to rotate would likely have the benefit of giving more reps to your weaker rotation(s).
  • This game was inspired by something I saw in Long Beach State training.

Game: 22 v 22

Synopsis: This game features 6-v-6 play, but with a major focus on serve receive offense, winning points in a row, and finishing a set.

Age/Skill Level: This game is suitable for all levels.

Requirements: two teams, full court, several balls

Execution: One team is the designated offensive team. The drill starts with one team serving the other with play running as usual for that rally. If the receiving team gets a first ball kill they get a point. If not, that rally is a wash, though the winner of it will serve the next ball. Before that, though, a coach initiates three balls to the offensive teams. If either team wins all three rallies they get a point. If not, no point is earned by either side. The game continues until one team reaches 25. Repeat all six rotations.


  • To make getting the wash mini game point (the 3-ball part) a bit easier, you can award the point to the team which wins 2 out of 3 rallies instead of all three.
  • The coach can initiate the ball as an attack, a downball, or a free ball.
  • To have a more concentrated focus on serve receive you can have the non-offensive team serve all balls.
  • To make sure to give weak rotations more time, you can require a team to win the game before rotating, with the first team to go all six rotations winning overall.
  • This could be used just as easily for small-sided games.

Additional Comments:

  • I saw this game played at USC, though I may not have all the details exactly correct.
  • The focus here is obviously on first ball serve receive kills, and secondarily winning points in a row. The way the coach initiates the three balls also creates an opportunity to work on some other types of offensive play (e.g. free ball attack).
  • If you do have only one team serve you’ll want to allow for miss serves (but not two in a row) to encourage aggressive serving.

Game: 7 in a Row

Synopsis: This game features normal play, but with the use of bonus points and a focus on scoring points in bunches.

Age/Skill Level: This game is suitable for intermediate to advanced players.

Requirements: two teams, full court

Execution: This is a 6 vs 6 game which operates normally in terms of service initiation and the play thereafter. The difference is in the objective and the scoring system. Teams are aiming to score 7 points in a row. Any rally win is a point. A bonus point, though, is given for first ball kills. Thus, it takes at least 4 straight rally wins for a team to win the game (three first ball serve receive or transition kills and a rally win). If at any point a team loses a rally its points revert to zero.


  • You can alter the bonus point earning process to focus on whatever you prioritize – like certain types of offensive plays, aces, stuff blocks, kills on off-speed shots, etc.
  • You can even have smaller or larger bonus points (say 2 for a first ball kill and 1 for a 3-pass), especially if you find the 7-point target a bit too challenging for your team.
  • To create a more intense focus on serve receive offense you can assign one team to serve to start every play.
  • There should be no problem running this as a small-sided game.

Additional Comments:

  • The main focus here is on scoring points in a row, and conversely preventing the other team from scoring points in bunches. As a result, it would be best if the bonus points you employ support that cause.
  • I saw this one used by USC, though I might have it presented here in a slight different fashion than it was run.
  • If you do have only one team serve you’ll want to allow for miss serves (but not two in a row) to encourage aggressive serving.