I received the following email about high school scheduling and lineup decision-making.

This season our athletic association has decided to go to a ranking system to get into the playoffs. The district winner still automatically gets in but the runner ups don’t. The other playoff spots are filled based on your record and strength of schedule (maxpreps). I think this will cause teams to focus on winning each match more than before. In previous years we could use non district matches to tryout younger players or get subs playing time, it may occasionally cost you a match but now it could cost you a chance to play in the playoffs altogether. This makes me think about carrying a smaller roster and play the toughest junior varsity schedule possible so those kids would basically be my bench. Is this how you would think about this scenario or do you think there is a way to get them in?

All this reminded me of the What if certain matches didn’t count toward the RPI post I wrote previously. It’s a similar issue.

Basically, my reply to the email was to ask a question. If you go back and look at prior seasons using the new system, how does it compare? If you would still make the playoffs, have a similar seeding, etc., you don’t need to make any changes. Carry on as usual. Though you’ll want to see if others make changes requiring a reaction.

If analysis of the new system suggests a worse outcome, then you need a new approach, of course.

The idea mentioned in the email about really challenging the JV team isn’t a bad one. I don’t know the rules implications involved, though. And my larger concern is about players who haven’t played at all – or potentially even trained- with the starters suddenly called up to fill a vacancy. That’s tough.

Of course analysis of your team, the opposition, and season expectations are all factors here. A team expecting to win their district (using the emailer’s situation) without much trouble can do what they like. Same with a team not expecting to make the playoffs either way. It’s the ones in the middle that have the decisions to make. They need to balance competitiveness now with the need to develop players for the future.

So how can you do that?

One way is to think in terms of how you insert your bench players. Maybe instead of planning to given them full sets or full matches once in a while you use them more frequently for shorter periods.

Here’s an example.

Say you run a 5-1 system, and you want to get your back-up setter playing time. Instead of giving the back-up the start sometimes, you could have them come in each set for a handful of rotations. Let’s say they are a little taller than the starting setter. You could give them three front row rotations each set in place of the starter.

Or you could do a double sub like you sometimes see in international matches where you replace your Opposite with a Setter and your Setter with an Opposite to keep three front row attackers for three rotations. Like you’re running a 6-2 for part of the set.

The idea is to give the bench players frequent opportunities to play in situations where they are well positioned to succeed as they play to their strengths instead of sporadic ones which perhaps don’t. A potential side benefit is that regular playing time may help keep them better engaged.

But of course it all comes down to the composition of the team, how quickly different players develop, etc.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Volleyball Technical Director for Charleston Academy. His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.