Using competition in training, even for skill development

Mark Lebedew wrote a pair of posts on the use of competition in volleyball practice, both from a positive and negative perspective. Basically, his view is that adding competition makes for better practices. At the same time, though, competition can also distract from your training focus. I want to speak here on the latter point.

Mark makes the following observation.

When players compete in practice they tend to play more conservatively. They don’t use the techniques and solutions that they have most recently learnt because they are not yet confident in those techniques and solutions. The imperative is to win.

To facilitate learning, sometimes it is necessary to program unscored drills and scrimmages in your practice.

I definitely agree with Mark. When players are judged on outcomes (winning) it is hard for them to be experimental. They will want to use what they feel is more proven and fall back on established habits.

What if the scoring, though, relates to what you want them working on?

I’m thinking along the lines of the bonus point scoring idea. Players earn points for executing a skill the way you are teaching them, or for attempting something they are trying to learn.

For example, let’s say you’re working on serve reception and you want the players focused on platform angle. Maybe they earn a point each time they hold their platform when they pass.

What about a situation where you’re encouraging more experimentation? Let’s think about hitters working on attacking the block rather than simply trying to avoid it. They could earn a point each time they clearly attempted to use the block, regardless of the final result.

At a team level we could think about certain types of plays. Say you have an inexperienced group and you want to develop the quick attack. They could earn a point each time they try it in a game play situation – no matter the final outcome

You can mix and match the things you score for such that different players each have their own ways to score. And maybe there are team opportunities as well. This way you can continue having competitive games – with or without the normal point-per-rally scoring included – while continuing to have players focused on learning.

There’s a game the USA women’s team uses called Bonus Point Bingo which incorporates these kinds of ideas.

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.