Here’s a scenario a coach presented in a Facebook group. It’s one I think a lot of us can relate to given common space constraints many of us face.

The scenario

You have fifteen minutes on half a court in each practice for setter tutoring. The other side has activity on it, so you cannot hit. You can make approaches, and do anything that would happen in a game, but the ball can’t leave your side of the net. Burning up the hitters during this time is not desirable. You cannot run ribbons to create extra courts and all that stuff, and while you can use boxes and other paraphernalia like setting targets, they need to come off the court in 30 seconds once you’re done. You can enter balls over the net from outside the side and end lines if you choose. The objective is to replicate all the game’s angles and dimensions for the setters. Your group comprises two setters, three middles and an occasional pin hitter you want active.

Training focus

The first thing you need to think about here is your training objective. That drives everything else, really. Since you have middles in the group, the most obvious thing to work on is the middle sets. That doesn’t have to be the case, though. You could just as easily work on pin or back row sets. The middles won’t be hitting, regardless, but they can be targets. And you could work on something more narrow, like releasing from defense.

Ball initiation

If at all possible, I want to initiate ever repetition with a ball coming over the net. Since we can hit balls over the net from beyond the sidelines or end line, that’s an option. In this case, sideline entry seems likely the best option due to the lack of passers in the group. They can hit down balls at each other, though, to replicate defensive situations.

Of course, if you’re working on something very basic or new you may have to just toss the ball in.

Player rotation

We have multiple setters and multiple middles in our scenario. That means we want to rotate players around, especially if there’s any jumping involved for the hitters. The two basic rotation options are time or a certain number of repetitions.

Putting it together

Here’s a slightly modified version of drills I’ve run with middles and setters for years (the modification being the “attacker” standing off the court). It works on the middle/setter connection while running a shoot (31) in transition after blocking.

One middle and one setter are together blocking against an outside attack (Position 4). The other setter and a second middle play defense. The last middle “attacks” the ball from outside the sideline. That could either be standing or on a box. Either way, we want them to avoid the block so the ball is dug. The blocking middle comes down from their jump and does the footwork and approach to hit a 31, but catches the ball. The setter comes down from the block, has to pick up the ball, then set the 31 as normal. Rotate players as desired.

There are lots of ways to adapt this basic structure to whatever you want to work on. You can switch up what the middle runs (e.g. a standard 1 or a slide). You can move the attack to the other side and have the middle work on running something (like a slide) from there, with the setter coming from defense. All the hitters can do approaches for pin or back row attacks. If you don’t want anyone jumping, you can have the non-setters be standing targets (possibly on a box).

And you can easily put a video review setup on the side of the court so players can watch their reps.

What about the coach?

You’ll notice in my diagram above I don’t have the coach included. Ideally, that’s the case. The more you’re involved in initiating the ball the harder it is for you to provide feedback. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, though. You just have to do the best you can.

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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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