Youth volleyball, Swedish style

One Sunday while coaching in Sweden I attended Svedala’s annual youth volleyball tournament. Over two sites and 8 courts the club ran several age groups, and both boys and girls. I spent the day on the site of the younger groups. In theory, this isn’t meant to be about particular age groups, but rather level of play. In practice, we’re talking generally 10s to 14s. Here’s a photo from the action.

Swedish youth volleyball in action

The rules at this level are different than what I’ve seen in other places. The matches are 4 v 4, which is similar to what I saw in England. As with England, they also play on a lower net. The difference is that in England they play on badminton courts while in Sweden they use full-sized courts. That may sound crazy for these age groups, but there’s a twist. They allow a bounce.

Here’s how it works.

Teams must play the serve normally. After that, the receiving team can let the ball bounce either after the first contact or after the second. A bounce is not require, however. From there on the bounce can come at any point, including immediately when the ball comes over the net. The team can only let the ball bounce once each time it crosses the net.

It was interesting to watch. There are definitely some pluses and minuses.

On the plus side:

– The players learn not to give up on the ball. A lot of balls that would otherwise be rally-enders remain in play because of the bounce allowance.

– There are more rallies, some of them quite long.

– The bounce, when used in what seems the most tactical way, creates and opportunity for players to generate more legitimate set-hit sequences. Specifically, a team can make a concerted effort to play a real first contact. They can then use the bounce to allow the “setter” to get into good position to set, which then tends to produce better balls for the hitters. I saw some pretty good swings as a result.

On the negative side:

– Allowing the bounce gives players an excuse to be a bit more passive than they might otherwise be in regular volleyball.

– Obviously, playing a bouncing ball is different than playing a normal pass, set, or hit. That means players are developing reading and movement patterns which will be of limited use in a real game.

One thing that is always an issue with young players in competition is they figure out pretty quickly that sending the ball back over the net fast limits the opportunities for you to make mistakes. In other words, players are incentivized not to play 3-touch volleyball. Sally Kus addressed this in her book Coaching Volleyball Successfully.

I didn’t notice that changing with the bounce rule, in particular among the most inexperienced players. The more experienced players did seem willing to try to develop a real attack. I don’t know if that is something they developed in the process of realizing that being able to use the bounce reduces the penal effect of a bad contact or a function of decent coaching – or both.

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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