Archive for Volleyball Coaching

Coaching Log – April 30, 2018

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

This was the final week of our Spring training period, and the final week we were allowed to work with the players for the 2017-18 school year.

Monday

We had a 2019 recruit on campus – the third in as many weeks, and also an OH. Unfortunately, since Monday is small group day for the team because of class schedules, she couldn’t play in anything like full-sided play. Instead, she took part in the two sessions we ran. The first was with our setter and one of the middles. In it she did some attacking vs. a double block, blocking as part of a double block, and passing and hitting.

In the second group we had a little more time and more bodies. This group featured all our healthy pin hitters, plus one of our liberos. The middle from the earlier group came back as well, which gave us six. We sandwiched a back court 3s game and a narrow court regular play 3s game around a servers vs. passers exercise. That’s not quite the same as playing 6 v 6 or 5 v 5, but it covered all the major areas of play we needed to evaluate. Besides, we saw her play with her juniors team over the weekend.

Tuesday

While this wasn’t our last practice, it was the last one where we had all of our reasonably healthy bodies available all together the whole time. Our freshman who hurt her knee back during the season is finally cleared to play, though only up to about 75% effort. Our OPP who hurt her ankle a couple weeks ago was also back in limited capacity. Since that was the case, I let them decide what they wanted to do, which is always an interesting experience.

Their first choice was to do the progressive triples exercise we do sometimes as a competitive ball-handling oriented warm-up. It goes from down balls to easy jumps to full back row attacks. After that they played all four variations of the cross-court game and we finished up with a pair of 15-point 5 v 6 games.

Wednesday

We started this session with some light ball-handling work in the form of a 4-person serve-pass-target drill. In this instance the focus was on taking balls with their hands. We then progressed to a 4 v 4 back row game, with rotation so that everyone took turns setting and hitting (if they were able). From there it was on to narrow court (a bit wider than half) doubles Speedball.

The remainder of the session was 4 v 4 normal play on the same narrow court we used for the doubles. The first two games were basically RS vs OH in structure, with serve initiation. Only earned points counted (kills, blocks, aces). Both times the OH side won, so we played one more game as a tie break. Games were to 11 points.

I gave the players the option of picking which game to play for the tiebreaker. They went with the 4 v 4 game we played a few times earlier in the term where you can only score if a hitter gets a kill off a hand set. This time coaches initiated the ball to the winner of the previous rally. This game was also to 11. The faster pace, though, made it pretty tiring. I gave the players a 30 second timeout at one stage to rest a little.

Thursday

This was the final practice of the Spring, and it was all about game play. We started with Brazilian volley tennis to get warmed up, then jumped into Winners back row 4s. After that, it was a 6 v 5 game until our setter had to leave for class. Once she left we played 5 v 5, 2-up/3-back.

Strength & Conditioning

This was final testing week for the team. Monday they started with standing jump in the gym, then move on to the power clean in the weight room. On Wednesday they did approach jumps, then finished up with back squats. Friday – their last formal session – the strength coach had them play a variation on Ultimate Frisbee in the gym using a small football. It was his last time working with them as he’s a grad student and is finishing up his degree in May.

Other

The players’ involvement in the interview process for the next MSU head coach disrupted this week somewhat. It caused late starts to practice on Monday and Thursday. Further, because their meeting on Friday was in the middle of our normal practice time, I just cancelled that session. So what did we do with our time? Budgeting for August!

On Sunday we had a speaker on campus to talk to the athletes on the subject of drug and alcohol use and abuse. This was something arranged by the Athletic Director. The speaker did a very good job. The session was extremely interactive and engaging.

My three principles for how my teams play

A fellow coach presented a question in a Facebook group. It was couched in the context of a job interview question, but I think it’s something worth thinking about much more broadly. I see it as a component piece to our general coaching philosophy.

Please tell me up to 3 of the PRINCIPLES you believe in that best describes your approach to the game/ how your teams play.

Here’s what I came up with for myself. I interpret the above as focusing on what our team does on the court, so I am concentrating on that rather than on training methods.

Players are not robots

I don’t want my players to be volleyball robots. By that I mean I don’t want to tell them how to play and I don’t want them to play by rigid rules. Certainly, there are some foundational elements I seek to have in place (e.g. establishing seam responsibilities). Beyond that, though, I want the players to be free to read and respond to the game. That means not telling them exactly where to be on defense, for example. It also means not requiring them to execute a skill in one certain way.

Does this mean I just put them on the court, then stand back and watch? Of course not! I provide information and feedback. I guide them in the direction of possible solutions to the problems they face. This is something I do, though, in the knowledge that they may come up with an effective solution on their own that’s different from mine.

My belief is when you trust players to do things themselves and show them that faith they are more relaxed. The result is more joy in their play, which generally produces better performances. Also, lessons players learn for themselves tend to take hold quicker and more firmly than those provided to them.

Focus on the mental aspects

There are two parts to the mental side of the game. One is reading the play. That isn’t just about what’s happening on the other side of the net. It also comes into play on your own side as players need to make note of what their teammates are doing to be prepared for what may come next. If you aren’t constantly reading and anticipating you won’t be ready to make plays.

The other part is decision-making. Each time a ball is played the player is doing two things. They are deciding on a solution to the problem they face – the skill they must employ and how – then attempting to execute based on that decision. If the player makes bad choices with the ball, they might get lucky and succeed. Chances are, though, things won’t work out well.

Relentless pressure

Something I constantly preach to my teams is that we should always make life hard for the other team. We should make them earn every point they get. In the case of inferior teams, I want them to feel like we’ve got them pinned to the mat with no chance of getting up. Superior teams should come away with respect for the way we challenged them from start to finish.

All of this comes from a positive mentality combined with intelligent play. We look to get a psychological edge and keep it.

Can you outline your own top three principles?

Getting the most out of video

An interesting discussion was started in a Facebook group on the subject of sharing video with players. It began with the following statement.

Personally, I have come to the conclusion that if we REALLY want kids to ‘forget the past’ then allowing them to view past performance with an eye to correcting all their mistakes seems kinda silly. I much prefer to focus on what they are doing right and let the bad stuff ‘go extinct’.

There are a few ways we can unpack this. I want to address this idea of “forget the past” before getting into how I think video is most useful.

When to forget and when to remember

To my mind the idea of letting go of errors is most specifically related to the performance phase. By that I mean a player will perform better if they can forget the error they just made and get on with playing the next ball. I wrote about this before in Ways to help players put errors behind them.

This, however, is quite different than the development phase. In the latter case players must absolutely acknowledge their errors. More than that, they need to look at them critically so they can go about trying to correct them. This is a hugely important part of the intentional practice process. See the post Climbing Mistake Mountain, and if you haven’t already, consider reading The Talent Code.

My point is you cannot shield players from their errors in the learning part of the process. They must see them. That said, they should also see when they do it correctly so they can see the contrast. This is extremely important when they don’t understand what’s leading to bad outcomes – and we can’t assume they do.

By the way, it’s important to know which phase you’re in. If you want players to have a performance mentality and let go of mistakes, you can’t then provide technical feedback when they make them.

Getting the most out of video

I use video a lot. If I have the capability where I’m coaching, I use delayed video during practice. This gives players instant visual feedback on what they just did. They can see it for themselves, and link what it felt like kinesthetically with what actually happened. I can also provide additional comment on what they’re watching. This is for both the errors and the good repetitions, so you get both error recognition and confirmation of successful performance.

Delayed video in practice is obviously a raw feed. There’s no chance to edit it, though as coach you can draw the player’s focus to something specific. It’s that latter element that I think needs to be a big feature of providing players with game footage after the fact.

While I agree that if just shown raw video players will tend to fixate on their mistakes – certainly female players tend to be that way – I don’t actually think that’s the biggest concern. To me the problem tends to be a lack of specific focus on what’s most important.

That’s where you have to provide the focus. The most direct way to do that is to edit the video so it only shows what you want the player(s) to concentrate on. That’s not always a reasonable option, however. In that case it becomes important for you to get them to look at what they need to see, and to ask them specific questions related to it. They’ll probably pick up on other stuff anyway, but at least you can keep the conversation moving in the direction you want. This goes for both watching themselves and watching other teams.

Notice that all of what I’ve described above is developmental phase usage of video. None of it takes place during the performance phase. If I were to share performance phase video with my team or players, it would focus on tactical adjustments. I would not show them technical elements.

One final piece of advice

I’ll leave you with one last recommendation. Keep it brief. One of the great aspects of the delayed video is that the player(s) can look at what the just did quickly and get right back to the action. When watching regular video, though, that’s not the case. Attention spans become a problem. As a result, it’s best to keep thing as tight and directed as you possibly can. You can go longer when you’re in a one-on-one with a player, but if you’re in a group session you’ll lose their attention quickly.

Coaching Log – April 23, 2018

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

This was a rather choppy week thanks to a variety of factors.

Monday

The team did their morning workout with the Strength Coach. Because of some availability issues, and me not feeling particularly well, I cancelled group sessions. This was roundly applauded by the team. 😀

Tuesday

We had another 2019 recruit on campus. Unfortunately, our practice session was a pretty poor one. Balls were dropping between players. There was a lack of readiness. Basically, the little things just didn’t get done. If we didn’t have the visitors (recruit’s mom was there too), there would have been some sharp words coming out of my mouth. As it was, though, the players recognized at the end that it wasn’t good enough. They said so in our final huddle before I even opened my mouth. So there was that bright spot.

The practice itself started with 3-player over-the-net pepper, followed by some serving. Then we did rounds of 3s Neville Pepper. First it was back row only, then we allowed front row attacking. The rest of the session was given over to 5 v 5 play. We started with 3 up/2 back playing 22 v 22 for four games, allowing for the OHs to flip between front and back row. The last game was 2 up/3 back normal play.

Wednesday

No practice on this day. The team had morning strength training, but the annual sports banquet meant no volleyball.

Every team had honorees for Best Teammate (voted by the team) and top academic marks. Our sophomore setter garnered both awards. The Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) moved to introduce a new award the year, which they dubbed the Maverick of the Year. Think of it as the Newcomer of the Year. One female and one male were selected, and our sophomore transfer OPP was one of the winners.

There’s a big final award that is essentially the Student-Athlete of the Year. It takes into account academics and community service, along with athletic performance. Each team’s coaching staff nominated a member of the squad. Tuesday morning I had to record a video about our nominee, which was our senior setter. That makes two years in a row as our selection, but no joy.

Thursday

This session was abbreviated for a couple of reasons. Between that and the fact that we only had one other practice up to this point I wanted to make it a higher tempo session. We started off with something new to get them moving and to give them a new challenge. That was the 2 v 2 side switch game. It served it’s purpose well, as they were definitely sweating at the end and I saw some good thinking about how to win.

From there we moved on to doubles Speedball on about a 2/3rds width court. There were two teams to a side and we played a combined side scoring game to 25.

After a couple of minutes of serving, the next exercise was a 4 v 4 game played using dig-or-die scoring. We played two games to 8. In the first one we started each rally with coaches initiating balls across the net on an alternating basis. To up the challenge some in the second game, we changed the ball initiation. This time the winner of the prior rally received a bounced ball and had two contacts remaining.

We had time for one more game after the second dig-or-die, so we put in 5 v 5 game, 2-up/3-back. I opted for ladder scoring, so if a team reached 24 and failed to win their score reset to 19. Serves initiated play.

Friday

Back on the sand for this session. I had to change things up due to player injury and absence issues. As a result, we only ran a single group rather than the two group structure of the prior two sessions. I kept the same Neville Pepper base, but shifted to triples rather than doubles, with four players rotating on the challenge side.

Strength & Conditioning

This was the last really training week for the team in this regard. Next week they do their year-end jump and lifting tests.

Recruiting

It was the last big recruiting tournament for us on Saturday and Sunday – the Lone Star national qualifier in Dallas. The event started on Friday, but because we had team practice we didn’t leave until after that. That meant missing the first day.

Community service

Saturday was the last of our community service dates for the year. Since we coaches were off recruiting, the players were on their own.

Structure things to keep them coming back

When coaching beginners, youngsters, and anyone else where retention is an important consideration we want to design sessions that leave them happy and wanting to come back for more. Motivation is important for committed teams of more senior players too, though. We want them just as eager to come back. That’s something we should keep in mind when planning our practices and training sessions.

Start with the finish

I previously wrote about building practice from the finish. In that case I talked about thinking first about the last exercise you wanted in your session, then working backwards so you have a progression toward it. When thinking in terms of having players eager to come back for the next session, a similar mentality is appropriate.

There is what’s known as a serial-position effect which tells us we remember the last part of a sequence best. Psychologists call this the recency effect. What this means to us coaches is that if we want our players to think positively about our training sessions we should end them on something they will enjoy or otherwise find fulfilling.

Flipping back to the start

The other thing the serial-position effect tells us people remember best is the first part of a sequence. This is the primacy effect. This tell us that we should make sure the first thing we do in a practice session is engaging.

The muddle in the middle

So if the end and the beginning are best remembered after the fact by players, what should we do with the middle part? Obviously, you do what you need to do. If we follow the psychology, though, we realize this is the part of the session where you can put in the less intense, less exciting parts. Need to slow things down or lower the intensity to do more teaching? This is the section in which to do it.

Understanding their motivation

Before I leave you to go out and structure your next practice based on these principles, there’s one last important consideration. You need to have a good grasp of what your players find engaging and fulfilling. These thoughts from a former player of mine provide one player’s thoughts to that end. You need to think about your own group of players, though.

In my experience, competition tends to motivate male players (Kathy DeBoer backs this up). Many female athletes, however, like to feel they’ve had a good workout. This is a very general perspective, though. Level of play and type of team are influencing factors. It’s important that you, as the coach, understand what gets your players’ juices flowing most.

Coaching Log – April 16, 2018

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

With our one tournament behind us, all that is left of the year is three weeks of training. This was the first of those three. Since we have no competition to prep for, my concentration is heavily on small-sided play. These give players lots of experience reading and anticipating.

Monday

I decided to skip the group training and provide a bit more recovery after Saturday’s exertions – and for those who had to coach their juniors teams on Sunday. They did, though, still have their morning strength and conditioning session.

Tuesday

I gave the players an assignment after Saturday’s tournament to watch video of at least two of the sets we played and be ready to talk about what they saw. I started by having them talk about what they thought we could do better, then shifted to what went well. Our other assistant watched all the video himself during the day, so contributed his own thoughts as someone who wasn’t there. For the most part, the team did a good job of hitting on key things. They even brought up a thing or two I didn’t pick out myself.

Here’s a really interesting thing, though. I asked them what they thought our team kill percentage was. They estimates were 50% to 60%. They were quite surprised when I told them it was only 29%. That says something about perceptions, doesn’t it?

Practice itself started with 3-player over-the-net Pepper. We followed that up with some serving, then move on to the Belly Drill.

During the talk before we got going I told the players that our big focus for our remaining Spring time was on getting better at reading and anticipating. Toward that end, our next exercise was a series of 7-point 3v6 games. A ball was initiated to the 3 side, then they played out the rally. Only blocks and kills counted for points.

We finished with a 5 v 5 game where position 6 was out of bounds.

This was a slower session without a lot of intensity. Not surprisingly, the generally feeling was that it wasn’t very good and lacked energy. My comment to the team was that sometimes you’re going to slower sessions like that. When we do, it’s beholden on them to generate their own energy and to keep the focus high.

Wednesday

We only had eight available for practice, and it worked out that one came in (from an advising meeting) just as another had to leave (for class). With this in mind, I put together a session completely based on small-sided games. This provided the players lots of contacts and read opportunities.

We started with a progressive triples game. It starts with down balls, then progresses to easy jumps, and ends with full back row attacks. Coaches alternate initiating balls over the net to start each rally. At each attack level we played a game to 8.

Up next was a pair of doubles exercises. First it was 2-touch volleyball. Since we had 4 teams, we played a round robin. After that, it was doubles Speedball. All games were half court (split lengthwise) to encourage rallies.

The last pair of games were 4 v 4. We played the first on about a 2/3rds sized court. The second one was full court, but we did not allow shots inside the 3m line. Serves initiated all the rallies.

Thursday

It was another thin bunch for practice – seven much of the time with a short period during which there was an overlap of one who came late (advising) and one who left early (class). We could have had one more, but the player the trainers held out Wednesday because of back issues did not take part for a second day. This time it was as much my call as any. I wanted to make sure she was available for sand practice on Friday, so figured it was best to hold her out one more day. Our primary trainer concurred.

Keeping the focus on reading, we started the session off with a pair of tennis games. One was just a simple short-court game, while the second was Brazilian. After doing some serving, focusing in mixing short and long balls, we did a couple different 4 v 4 games.

In the first game there was one hitter up, with three back row players. The players were not allowed to play shots in front of the 3m line. Scoring was kills only. We played a couple of games to ten, mixing the front row hitters around.

The final game featured 3-2-1 scoring. That’s where a team gets 3 points for scoring on first contact, 2 points on second contact, and 1 point for scoring on the third touch. We only counted earned points (kills, blocks, aces). Blocks and aces were both worth 2 points. Using this type of scoring both makes players think more in terms of finding different ways to score and encourages them to be more alert and ready on defense.

Friday

We were back out on the sand once more. The plan was one similar to what we did two weeks back, with two groups of five. The group assignments were randomized, except for two players who had schedule constraints. This time, though, we went with 5-minute rounds rather than 4-minute. I also cut out the overlap period of play. I’m glad I did as it was hot enough (about 85F/29C) that the heat was a factor for the players.

Saturday

In conjunction with the annual Spring football game, the MSU Athletic Training department did mass physicals for incoming freshmen athletes. Four of our 2018 recruits were able to attend to get that all done and out of the way. The others will have to come at some point over the Summer so it’s all taken care of and they are cleared before we start pre-season. Some of the incoming players are planning to do Summer II classes (starting in early July) so they can be on campus for workouts with the strength coaches. Completed physicals are mandatory before starting those sessions.

Head coach position

On Monday I noticed that the posting for the head coach vacancy was no longer on the MSU website. This was in line with the 12-day posting period the Athletic Director told me about. On Wednesday the A.D. said his plan was to announce the new head coach within about 10 days.

Recruiting

Tuesday was the start of the normal NCAA signing period for volleyball (there’s an early period in November). We sent National Letters of Intent to the two players we committed earlier this term for them to sign.

Friday we found out another setter we had on our list for 2018 opted to go somewhere else. This did not seem to be directly linked to the lack of a head coach, but could have been indirectly related.

Coaching Log – April 9, 2018

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

This was arguably the central week of the MSU Spring season.

Monday

Because we were playing on Saturday, and NCAA require two days off per week, we did not do the normal small group sessions this day. The day off also applied to team weight training in the morning, so the players were free to lift on their own.

Tuesday

The focus for this week was getting ready to play on Saturday. As such, we started with a heavy team oriented session. We warmed up with 3 and 4 person over-the-net pepper, and then seam serving. That was followed by Winners back row 4s with fixed setters.

Next up was an unscored 5 v 5 exercise. Both sides had three front row attackers. In the back row, though, one had a setter and an outside hitter (OH) playing defense while the other had two liberos. We alternated initiating three down balls to each side. For the team with the setter, they had to set one to the OH, one to the middle hitter (MB), and one to the right side (RS). They could set wherever they wanted once into the rally, but the initial ball had to follow this requirement. Since the other team had no setter, they just did high balls to the hitters – with some 2s to the MB. After 9 balls to each side, we swapped hitters around.

About the last hour of practice was a series of 5 v 6 games. They were mainly serve initiated, but with a second ball twist. After the serve rally finished I initiated a down ball to the receiving team. We wanted to get some extra work in on defending against RS attacks, so the first attack off the second ball had to come from the right. After that, though, the set could go anywhere. Each team served three straight balls, then we rotated the team of 6. When we got through three rotations we swapped players around.

Not surprisingly, it was a bit rough at times technically after four days off. There was some interesting problem-solving during the 5 v 5 exercise, though.

Wednesday

Our senior MB was available to practice with us, so I made 6 v 6 play a central part of the practice plan – literally and figuratively. Our sophomore RS was to arrive about 30 minutes late due to class, while one of our freshmen MBs had to leave about 40 minutes early. So we had something like a 35 minute window in which we could play 6 on 6.

I used the first part of practice, before the RS arrived, as a serving and passing progression. We started with a partner serving warm-up. That then progressed to 5-player Serve, Pass, Set drill. We finished with a servers vs. passers game. By that point, the RS had arrived, so we could move on to game play.

Unfortunately, we perhaps only got about halfway through the time available for 6 v 6 action. At that point, the same RS injured her ankle on a play at the net. We had to finish up with a 6 v 5 exercise.

The last part of the session was a MB/RS vs. MB/OH set of 5 v 5 games.

Thursday

This was a shorter, lower intensity session after a pretty intense one Wednesday, and ahead of a strong play-oriented session on Friday. Two players were late arrivals for academic reasons. So while we waited for them to join us the seven available did some over-the-net pepper, serving, and a variation of Speedball that had four players on one side (two teams of two) and three on the other (they rotated).

Once the two latecomers arrived we jumped into a serve-pass-to-attack exercise. This was basically just a lower intensity way for us to work on serve receive offense ahead of Saturday’s play.

Unfortunately, the last part of practice had to be given over to team punishment. There was an infraction of Athletic Training Room rules – a very serious one.

Friday

We had the first of our 2019 recruiting prospects on campus – an OH. Between that and getting things ready ahead of Saturday, it kept things busy.

I had to split our last practice before the tournament to both prepare the team and to evaluate the recruit. We again had our senior MB with us. I didn’t want to go too hard knowing what was coming on Saturday, so it wasn’t as intense a session as it could have been.

We started with Brazilian volley tennis for some fun and competition. Next up was some serving. After warming up their arms I had them simply work on being aggressive with their go-to serves. No specific targets this time.

We then did some pass-to-attack out of serve reception. This was to give the hitters some reps generally, but also to let the recruit get a sense of the set tempo. That was followed by back court 3s Speedball.

The last hour was given over to basic play. I had them do 15-point games. We fit in four of them, using different player combinations on the “starting” side, which just means the side with our setter. I told them to do slow (rather than quick) ball collections in between games and let the water breaks linger longer than usual to not over work them.

Unfortunately, Men’s Basketball also had a recruit on campus and needed to use the main gym after us. That meant we couldn’t set up the courts for Saturday after we finished practice. I got some basketball help do it after they were done, though.

Saturday – Spring Tournament

We hosted a 5-team Spring tournament. It was supposed to be a 6-team event, but we heard early in the week that one of the teams couldn’t come because they were down to only 5 players due to injury. That meant a complete format change. We shifted from each team playing three 50-minute timed matches to everyone playing four 45-minute matches with a 25 minute break in the middle. Because we only had one MB available, I scheduled our matches with breaks in between.

We played all or part of 9 sets and only lost one of the partials. The two full sets we won over our conference rivals, Cameron, at the end of the day were quite satisfying. I didn’t do a lot of actual coaching of the team over the course of the day. I did, though, talk with players on the bench about different parts of their play. Mainly, I just stood back and watched them work together to problem solve. It was good to see a lot of the stuff we’ve been talking about and working on put into action.

Long, busy day for me. I had to run things solo for the day as our other assistant coach was off coaching his Juniors team at a big tournament.

Whose ball? Seam responsibilities

In the post On player communication I talk about the challenge of players communicating with each other on the court. It in part brings up the question of whether players really need to talk during play. That’s from the perspective of player responsibility. In other words, whose ball is it?

With that in mind, I will share my own personal basic philosophy on seam responsibility. I’m happy to hear about different approaches.

I take as my starting point the idea that the person with the shortest distance to go for the ball should take it. After all, it will take them less time to get there. Flipping that around, it means the player farther away takes the deeper ball. Generally speaking, it’s easier to go sideways or forward than to have to try to go backwards to play the ball.

Here’s what that looks like in terms of serve receive. The star is the location of the server.

So as you can see, the player who is closest to the origin of the serve is the one who takes the short seam between players. The one further away then takes the deep seam.

And here’s what that same principle looks like from the perspective of a standard perimeter defense. Again, the star is the attack point.

Of course you may use a different type of defense or locate your defenders differently in the perimeter scheme. The concept remains the same, though. The important thing is that players understand that the principle applies regardless of court position. They need to know instinctively who has the short seam and who has the deep one in all situations based on their relative positions. If they do you will drastically reduce the number of balls that land between players who are standing there looking at each other.

Now, understanding seam responsibility when in serve reception or in defense is only part of the equation. There are other “seam” situations that should have clear rules. Here are a couple that come immediately to mind.

  • Who plays the third ball over between a front row player backing up and a back row player moving forward?
  • Who takes a ball that is set between two attackers?
  • When does a middle hitter take a serve?

Then there are other situations which influence who takes a ball, such as the setter releasing on a free or down ball. I’m sure you can think of a few of them.

The point is, the players should understand these structural elements of how they play. There will always be situations that don’t fit into nice, neat structure, but if the players know the principles, they can deal with things effectively. When they reach that point, talking becomes less about communicating in-play and more about communicating between plays.

Coaching Log – April 2, 2018

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

Last week was a short one. MSU was on holiday from after Wednesday evening classes through the rest of the week for Easter.

Monday

We had the third of the three setters we’ve been looking at for 2018 on a visit. She was able to work in with the second and third of our small groups. That gave her a chance to work in with one of the middles as well as with pin hitters.

The sessions with the middles and setter were highly technical. We interspersed hitting for the middles – mainly in transition after blocking – with defensive work for the setter and the libero who was in the second group.

The pin hitter session was much more game focused. We did do some pass-to-attack as a chance for the recruit to work on more standard sets. Wrapped around that was a 3 v 4 exercise (setter on one side) where the players first attacked back row only, then were allowed to hit on the net and a set of narrow court 4 v 4 games.

Tuesday

For the first half of the session we used two courts. The first exercise was the same 4-person over-the-net pepper exercise we did last week. I think it went a bit better this time, though could still use a fair amount of improvement.

We then did a 2 v 2 narrow court 2-touch game. There were 5 players on each court, four playing and one off. After each rally, the player who made the mistake on the final ball was subbed out by the player waiting. As that happened, a new ball was fed in to the winning side. Players kept track of their own rally wins. After 2.5 minutes of essentially continuous play, the top players moved up to/stayed on the top court, while the bottom players moved down to/stayed on the bottom court. We played three total rounds.

The last part of this two court phase split the team to work on different phases of the offense. On one court the outsides worked on attacking out-of-system balls to the corners, while the middles and right sides worked on back side combination sets. The two liberos split time across the two courts, swapping midway through. We then switched it up, moving the right sides over to work on corner swings while the outsides worked with the middles on front side plays.

The rest of the session was 6 v 6 game play. Our senior middle wanted to get some court time in ahead of playing with the team next week, so she joined us around the halfway point. On top of that, the trainers cleared our junior outside for full play, or at least nearly so. She missed a lot of time due to back problems.

This particular game featured one side serving 3 good serves, then the other doing the same, after which both sides rotated. I added in a second chance element in the case of rally-ending errors (mainly hitting/setting). We played through one full set of rotations. Then I swapped a couple of players and repeated the process.

Wednesday

I made a decision to have a very challenging session. It was our last one for the week and the players didn’t have an overly tough morning workout. So I wanted to challenge them both physically and mentally.

Knowing we had some players coming late, we started with progressive triples. That’s basically a situation where the players start playing 3 v 3 with down balls, then go to easy jumps, and finally go to full back row attacks. It’s essentially a warm-up progression. In this case, though, the last part of the exercise was the Hard Drill. In this case I allowed unlimited “washes” so long as they kept the ball in play. Their goal was 10 good attack-dig sequences. We got to 8 before I had to put a stop for time reasons. I could have kept it going, but I’d kind of thought of doing 7, and 8 provides a good sign post for the next time.

Next up was an around the world serving exercise. That’s hitting targets 1 through 6 in order. They had to start back over at 1 if they served into the net.

From there we progressed to a MB/RS vs MB/OH game play exercise. To keep the tempo up, every rally started with a coach’s down ball. Because our other coach was setting for one side, I had to do both sides. Rather than trying to walk back and forth to hit balls over the net to the receiving team, I just did three consecutive balls to one side, then three to the other. After nine total balls to each side, I rotated the pin attacker around.

One of our MBs had to leave for class, so for the last part of practice we played a set of 4 v 4 games. One side played 3 up/1 back. They had the remaining MB, a front row setter, an OH, and one of the liberos. The other side played 2 up/2 back, with two pin hitters in the front row. We played a total of four games to 10. The players served to start each rally, and it was normal scoring. This was a slower exercise, but having to cover the full court put a lot of pressure on the defense. I was quite happy to see the hitters taking advantage of that.

We ended up finishing in less than 2 hours. The players were clearly tired. One of them actually asked if we intentionally made it a hard session. 🙂

Head coach search

The posting of the head coach position finally went up late Tuesday. As I understand it, the posting must remain up at least 12 days.

Recruiting

On Thursday we heard from one of the 2018 setters we brought to campus earlier in the term. She informed us that she can’t wait any longer to find out who the new coach will be and has accepted an offer to go somewhere else.

We started making arrangements to bring 2019s to campus. Obviously, we would prefer to have a head coach in place during this process. Our window, though, is too short to wait. We only have four weeks left where we can have recruits play in with the team (officially, this is considered a tryout). After that is the mandatory off week before finals, then finals themselves. Yes, recruits can come visit in that period. It’s just less optimal. So we’re looking to get the top prospects we’ve identified so far to visit in these next few weeks.

Other

On Wednesday morning I attending a fundraising meeting for the head coaches. It was partly to give us an understanding of what the university wants to do (the president did the introduction) and partly a discussion of best practices.

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