I came across the following question from a coach in a Facebook group.

I’ll be helping with a developmental program so they won’t have matches to work for and it will be a very beginning group. What are your best competitive drills for beginners?

Do beginners need competitive drills? That’s the first question I would ask.

With beginners you basically have two objectives – teach them the game and make sure they have fun. Both are equally important. If they don’t have fun, they don’t come back. If all they do is have fun, they don’t learn much. So the key is balancing those two elements.

The the main thing we’re generally trying to teach beginners (aside from the basic rules of the game) is control. In all the various skills the objective is to control the ball in some way. Doing cooperative exercises tends to support developing control because it increases the requirement for not only skill execution, but doing so in coordination with others. Competitive exercises, on the other hand, focus on finding the most effective way to score the point or otherwise win. That can run counter to the development we’re after.

That said, competitive stuff tends to increase the fun factor, so you don’t want to leave it out entirely. You can make cooperative exercises competitive, though. For example, split the group in half and have them racing to complete something like 7 consecutive contacts. You can also score based on process rather than outcome. Both those approaches can give you ways to make things competitive in their face without losing the developmental focus you need.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager for Volleyball England (overseeing the national team pipeline systems), 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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