You might be surprised if you give them a chance

I previously referenced an article by Leon Blazer where he talks about coaching 12-and-unders. One of the things I really liked about that piece is how he talks about his youngsters running a quick offense. I bet there are a great many coaches out there who would never even think of trying that!

I bring it up because we coaches can sometimes get in the way of our players’ and teams’ development. This is because of our own limiting expectations, biases, etc. I wrote about this very thing in the post Don’t limit your players with negative thinking, but was reminded of it by an email I recently received. This coach working in a disadvantaged school said the following:

I run a 4-2 and don’t run quick sets in the middle. Why? Because we cant serve, pass, approach and hit, play defense, or attack Out of System well enough to spend the time to learn the skills to run a more sophisticated system.

Firstly, I really don’t like the use of the word can’t. It’s an absolute statement, and a negative one. That sort of thinking/speaking can be detrimental in many ways. I’d rather here something more along the lines of, “We need to improve our passing.”

With respect to working on the quick offense, obviously, every coach needs to set their training priorities. I can understand the need to put things above being able to hit a quick ball, but let me ask a question…

What’s the purpose of passing accurately – of being in-system?

If all you’re ever going to do is set your pin hitters, then there’s really not much need to pass a 3-ball. You’ll do just fine passing 2-balls. Guess what? Your players will probably figure that out pretty quickly. That creates a kind of mutually reinforcing pattern of passers passing off the net and setters establishing their target similarly away from the net (see Setter start position and the passing target).

I’ve had numerous conversations with coaches who’ve told me, “We don’t pass well enough to run quicks.” Guess what? If you don’t give the players a reason to pass more accurately and consistently – i.e. running quick sets and other plays – then they have nothing to push them do to so!

Have you ever seen a team successfully run a quick attack for the first time? They get REALLY excited. They want to do it again!

By the way, that doesn’t necessarily go away. I watched the setter for the top European men’s professional team during the 2015 Champions League finals repeatedly bouncing all over the court and flexing his muscles after his hitters pounded a quick set. Granted, he was a relatively young guy. Still, I’d venture to say he’s set a lot of successful quick attacks, even at this early stage in his career.

If your team wants to keep running successful quicks, what do you think that will motivate them to do? Hmmmm…. Pass better, maybe?

Importantly, being able to run quicks provides a concrete reason for passing well. That’s in place of some vague idea of what they should be doing. That leads to passing with intention. Anything you can get your players doing with more intention is going to be more productive and developmentally successful. This goes way beyond passing.

The point of all this is two-fold. First, don’t put unnecessary brakes on your players’ or teams’ development. Your job should be to push them to get out of their comfort zone, not to settle into one. Second, think about how different skills and elements of the game link together and how you can use one to help work on and motivate the players with respect to another. The results just might surprise you.

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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.

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