Here’s an interesting inquiry on middle development from an inexperienced coach.

I need help training fresh young middles. I lack experience or knowledge in training middles. Can you give me your TOP THREE pieces of advice to help train them. What’s the most important in your opinion? Whats the best way to train them (drills etc.). Much appreciated in advance!

There are so many directions one can go when talking about middle development, but we’re talking about newbies here. That being the case, let’s keep it pretty simple.

Blocking: React!

At the beginner level when it comes to the blocking aspect of being a middle, simply getting to the pins to block tends to be the biggest hurdle. In a lot of cases the kids think their way out of doing it. They either simply aren’t ready to react to the set quickly, or they’re guessing and get caught wrong-footed.

So make things simple for them. Get them to focus strictly on reacting to the set. Don’t worry about reading yet. That will come later. Just work with them on moving on the set with the right footwork. A starting point is simply tossing a ball to a setter who randomly decides which way to set (or you can signal them in advance). Once you see they have a grasp of the idea, make sure to put them up against hitters so they have to move at game speed. Otherwise, they’ll end up going too slow or simply going through the motions.

And through it all make sure to keep them focused on just reacting and then moving as quickly as possible. No guessing!

Hitting: Be available!

On the offensive side of things the big issue with new middles is getting them to be available to attack as much as possible. This is especially true in transition. It’s pretty easy to know what to do in serve receive or free ball situations. Those are often well-scripted. In transition, however, things are moving fast and new middles can really struggle.

Actually, the first challenge is often just keeping them out of the way of the setter!

I would suggest giving them a simple set of guidelines or instructions for that phase. What exactly this means probably depends on the sort of offense you’re running. It could be as simple, though, as saying if the ball is dug left of center the middle runs something (quick, 2-ball) behind, otherwise it’s in front.

Whatever you decide you want them doing in transition, you then have to work on it relentlessly. Likely, they’ll need work developing efficient footwork as a starting point. That will probably have to begin with some blocked training. You’ll quickly want to get them going at game speed, however. Anything where they have to come down from a block, then do their transition and attack, will suffice.

Develop the middle mentality

It’s not easy being a middle. The best blockers only average a bit over 1 block per set in a season. That’s a whole lot of blocking with little in the way of tangible positive outcomes. And we’re not even talking about the frustration of the inevitable block touches that result in points for the other team.

Similarly, most middles don’t get set nearly as much as pin hitters. Even in perfect pass/dig situations they are often making runs that don’t result in swings. And just the opportunity to make those runs is dependent upon the team handling the ball well on first contact, which can be the minority of situations.

So middles have to do a lot of work without getting their names on the score sheet. That means they really need a good team mentality. They must gain satisfaction from a pin hitter getting a kill because their quick run held the opposing middle blocker. And from when their libero gets an easy dig because the other team’s hitter had to work around their block.

This side of it is something too few coaches actually work with their new middles.

So those are my three pieces of advice. I’d be interested in hearing what you would put on your list.

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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.

    3 replies to "Advice for training new middles"


      Great article!
      As a former middle and one who specializes in training the position one thing I would like to have seen in your response. Coaches tend to select middles due to their size. I would have liked to seen your response addressing middle selection. How do one select middles is very important in my opinion.

      • John Forman

        But that wasn’t the question Kelly. 😉

        Very valid topic for a future post, though!

    • D.E. Allen

      Loved reading your ideas. It gave me validation in my process. Especially expressing to middles and the rest of the team how hard middles work without the direct glory. I think it gives middles pride and respect of the team.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.