Day 3 here we go! If you haven’t seen them already, here are my updates from Day 1 and Day 2.

One quick note. Given that the virtual version of the convention started a day after the in-person event and runs to the day after the in-person one ends, I’d suspected we weren’t seeing sessions from it live. That was confirmed for me last night while texting with someone I know who’s in Omaha. He attended a session on Friday that only shows up on the virtual platform Saturday.

Catch-up: Pre-Convention Seminar Part 2: Feedback Strategies During Training – Coach and Athlete Collaboration is Key

This is one of the sessions I’d wanted to take in on Thursday that I couldn’t at the time. It was presented by USA Women’s National Team assistants Erin Virtue and Tama Miyashiro. This was an on-court session mixing discussion with practice activities.

The idea of extrinsic vs. intrinsic feedback came up here, along with frequency of feedback. They also mentioned direct vs. indirect feedback. The former is mainly giving them a corrective statement while the latter is more about asking them what happened.

Something Tama mentioned was having players give thumbs up/down if they did the thing you have them focused on. So after each rep they give a signal. This allows you to see how they’re doing when you can’t necessarily be right next to them (which likely will often be the case). It also keeps them focused on that specific element.

Tama also talked about when a player is ready to move on with regards to a specific focus element. She said that when they are doing it more than half the time you should progress them (see also this post). That means if you want to keep working on that element you need to increase complexity.

One of the interesting elements from a serve-pass-set-block (no hit) drill was mirroring. There were three blockers at the net focused on reading the setter, then reacting to the set (which was going to catchers). Behind them was a second line of blockers at the 3m line doing the exact same thing as the ones at the net. Thus, you had twice as many blockers working.

Catch-up: Developing and Training an Elite Blocking System

This was an on-court session from John Speraw I missed on Friday. Any time you can listen to John talk about blocking it’s well worth doing. He’s very engaging and will readily get into how techniques and systems have developed, and are continuing to develop. This session was no different.

A specific thing he talked about near the beginning when discussing eye sequencing was a refinement of the Ball-Set-Ball-Hitter pattern. He now teaches Ball-Hitter-Setter-Ball-Hitter. And with respect to the setter, he wants the blockers specifically looking at the setter’s hands.

Technology Training with Pulse VB: How to Add Feedback Without Adding Staff

They didn’t begin the day until 10:30. Clearly letting people sleep in on the weekend! Actually, there was another round of technical glitches getting the videos going. By the time I got it running via a page refresh things I’d missed some of it, so I ended up circling back afterwards to be able to start from the beginning.

This session was pre-recorded by Jeff Huebner of Texas Woman’s University, a former competitor coach from my days at Midwestern State, and someone I did two Coaching Conversations with (here and here). It was the first of the Saturday offerings.

As the title suggests, the focus was on the Pulse wearable, but Jeff also talked more broadly about using technology.

Maximizing Your Scoring Opportunities

This session was led by Genny Volpe of Rice. This was another on-court session. They worked mainly on defense and transition concepts. Honestly, there wasn’t anything that really was new or different for me.

Understanding and Developing a Strong “Next Play/Next Ball” Mental Re-Set Approach: Applying Practical Coaching Styles from Volleyball’s Top Coaches

This was another live seminar session with Dennis Janzen as the presenter. Essentially, the presentation was based on interviews with players and coaches. The drumbeat theme is that we have to focus more on what’s next and less on what just happened. And coaches are just as guilty of it as players.

I took a bit of a break after watching that to watch a German pro league match. My friend Mark Lebedew was coaching. That ended up going 5 sets, which saw me miss basically all the remaining time slots. I went back, though, and watched the recordings.

Games People Play: How We Organize our 6 vs 6 Time in Practice

This was another on-court session. Karch led it, with some help from his USA staff. He started off by saying they spend 50%-60% of their time in 6v6 activities. He also talked about having several different variations (6 or 7 a season), but not so many that explanation becomes an issue.

They began with a fixed style game where players don’t rotate. For example working on a single rotation on one side with the other doing all the serving. The scoring would be set up to make it competitive. Karch then had them shift to a variation where one side served 3 balls, then the other side served 3. Because they wanted rallies, aces got reserved and missed serves were redone with a standing serve (could be a free ball).

From there they moved on to rotation games. In other words, standard game play structure. The first variation Karch had them do was to play a shortened game, but one which required the winning team to then do something on an additional ball to get a big point (e.g. FBSO). In other words, a kind of wash variation. Whether they get it or not, you start a new game. Karch also noted that there’s a chance of a steal if the team trying for the big point makes an error (e.g. hits the ball out when going for an FBSO).

Bonus points and other scoring variations were a theme throughout. In response to a question about rewards/consequences for winning/losing, Karch said he doesn’t do much of either as he sees those things as already being intrinsic.

Getting it RIGHT: Setting to and Attacking the Right Side of the Court

In the last time slot of the day I opted for this session from Chris McGown (Gold Medal Squared). This too was an on-court session. Chris started of talking about the theme of being consistently good rather than sometimes being great.

He began with a focus on the setting. There was a bit of technical talk about back setting, especially at a faster tempo. From there he turned the focus to the right side hitters. He talked about where he likes them to approach from and went through footwork.

In bringing in the back row attack, Chris did the thing that irks me about GMS. He basically told the crowd that they probably don’t have anyone who can be effective hitting out of the back row, so they likely shouldn’t bother with it. I’ve written on the question of back row effectiveness in the women’s game before, so I’ll leave that to the side. My bigger issue is how that mentality tends to create a focus on winning now, not developing players.

Back to the content, something else Chris brought up was not having setters release from defense as soon as they see the ball isn’t coming to them (no talking about free ball here). Instead, they turn to face the digger, then go to the ball. This ties in with a comment he made earlier that setters are more effective moving forward.

Because the slide is part of attacking on the right, he brought middles into the equation in the latter stages.

All done

That’s it for Day 3. I should note that one of the sessions available today was Hugh McCutcheon doing a seminar based on his new book. I’m in the middle of reading it, so I opted to hold off until I finished it before taking in that presentation.

Next up, Day 4!

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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