Adapting games and drills for lower level players

There are loads of volleyball drills and volleyball games we coaches can use in our training sessions. Some of them, however, will only be of use to certain levels of players. After all, you’re not really going to use complex, multi-skill drills with a group of beginners. It would be a disaster. That said, there are ways to adapt many drills and games which in their base case are designed for players more advanced than yours so you can use them yourself.

Lower the standard

Many games and drills have targets associated with them. For example, serve receive drills may have an objective of X number of good passes. At higher levels what counts as a good pass could be a 3-pass. At a beginner level, though, you may count any pass that’s playable for a second contact. In a hitting drill with kills as an objective for newer player you could simply count balls hit in. Alternatively, in a digging drill you might remove the penalty for the ball going over the net, if there is one.

Replace serves

Many games and drills start with a player serving. This can introduce a massive amount of variability into the situation. It makes certain types of training exercises unworkable. If you replace the serve, though, you can make things much more workable. For example, a passing drill which normally uses player serves can have those replaced with tosses. You may need to train players how to toss well. That is usually easier than getting them to be able to consistently provide accurate serves, though. In the case of running game play, you could replace serves with free balls.

Removing steps in the chain

More advanced drills tend to have multiple steps in the process. Reducing those steps will make a drill more useful with lower level players. A pass-set-hit drill could replace the pass with a toss, or alternatively could keep the pass, but put a toss in place of the set. It’s a question of what your coaching priority is for a given drill. If you want to work on hitting, then having a consistent set makes sense. If you’re focusing on the setting, though, then having consistent passing would be useful.

Use a ringer

Continuing along the lines of cutting down variability in some part of a drill or game, you could use a more advanced player at some point in the chain. This allows you to keep things very game-like while having more consistency. This could be done by having an advanced player (or coach) be the passer in a pass-set-hit drill or acting in the setter role in a 6 v 6 type of game.

Varying the initiation intensity

In coach-centric drills, you tend to have a lot of flexibility in how you put the ball into play. The Belly Drill is an example of this. For advanced teams you can make players have to play the ball while still on the floor, chase balls off the court, or dig hard driven balls. You can also challenge better players more and weaker players less, allowing you to help both develop equally at their own pace.

Change the dimensions

Beginning players tend not to move much, but many types of drills and games require lots of court movement. Winners 3s is a perfect example, as three players are expected to cover the full court. Using a smaller court can help create rallies where you would otherwise struggle to see them (see also small-sided volleyball games).

I’m sure there are other ideas out there. If there’s something you’ve done to adapt more advanced drills for use with less developed players, I’d love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below.

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John most recently coached for an NCAA Division II women's team. That followed 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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