Archive for Volleyball Coaching

Need more coach fitness!

Wow! It’s been a rough week or so on the old body.

Last week while working with the TV Bühl guys I stepped backward onto an unseen ball on the ground. The resulting fall involved a mildly sprained ankle and some wrist damage. The ankle was mostly back to normal within 24 hours despite not going the RICE route (just worked it around a bit). The wrist was quite painful the first 24 hours. That did quickly abate, but there remain some persistent issues. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve had wrist problems. Hopefully, it clears up soon.

Getting to Svedala shifted the focus from injury to fitness. The place the club has secured for me, while more than adequate to my needs (or at least it will be once a few things get sorted out) is a bit outside of town – about a 20 minute walk to the main commercial area. Over the course of Sunday and Monday I spent about 2.5 hours in total walking for one reason or another. I walked everywhere while living in Exeter, but I was pretty centrally located then. The trips were frequent, and often involved hills, but they weren’t log. Even when I walked for exercise it was only in the 35 minute duration range.

So when I did a 1 hour round trip to go grocery shopping on Sunday, and then later had to walk to meet up with the three American players in the team for some pre-start discussions, I felt it.

The club has since provided me with a bike, which will definitely be handy for things like shopping and going to the train station (which is on opposite side of tow n from me). For the time being, though, I’m planning on sticking mainly to walking for the extra exercise. I could do with a major improvement to my overall fitness!

Pretty soon the exercise will also include trips to the fitness club the team has access to in town. I’m looking forward to that. All the computer time the last few years has me rather softer than I’d like.

Training Plan: 11 players, just games

Priorities: Shake off the rust with lots of touches, start the process of the players getting to know each other at the beginning of a new season, get some initial impressions

Training time: 2 hours

Space: 2 courts

Players: 11 (2 setters)

Notes: Because set-up and take down were included in the allocated time, and some amount of time was necessarily allocated to introductions and initial discussion, the actual training period was somewhat less than 2 hours.

– – – The Plan – – –

Warm-up: No isolated warm-up.

Cooperative 1 vs 1 and 1 vs 1 w/fixed setter: Set up 4 games of 1 v. 1 and one game of 1 v 1 with a fixed setter. The idea is to get to 6 good pass-set-downball sequences. As soon as one group gets there, they all rotate in a clockwise fashion. If no one gets there in the time limit, rotate anyway.
11-player singles rotation3-person and 4-person pepper w/fixed setter: On one court is two groups of 3-person rotating over-the-net pepper. On the other court is a 2 v. 2 pepper with a fixed setter. The team’s two setters are market A and B. Again, play to six good pass-set-hit sequences (this time with jumping), or a the time limit. Rotation for the non-setters is clockwise. The setters switch positions each rotation.

11-player peppers

5-person and 6-person player winners: Each court has a game of Player Winners on it, one with 5 players and one with 6 players. Play for 5 minutes, then move the top 2 from the 5-person court to the 6-person, and the bottom 3 from the 6-person court the other way (now making the 5 a 6 and the 6 a 5). Restart and go for 5 more minutes, then send the top 3 from the 6-person court to the 5-person court, and the bottom 2 from the 5-person court to the 6-person court. Play another 5 minutes, then repeat the process from after the first round. Play one last round of 5 minutes.

Winners 3: Finish with standard Winners (3s in this case) Start with back court attacks only, then shift to allowing front court attacks as well.

– – – Observations – – –

The first two exercises went quicker than expected. As a result I added a 5th exercise. The initial thought was to play Winners 4s, but instead I went with Neville Pepper. The 9 non-setters were split up into three roughly equal teams. They were the teams to play through the games. The setters were used in a fixed fashion, switching sides when the challenge side won a rally.

Avoiding player feedback dependence

I once came across the following question from a fellow volleyball coach.

What do you do to make sure your players don’t become dependent on you for feedback in matches?

This sort of thing is a significant touch point for me. I hate seeing athletes turn to their coach(es) after each play during competition. The captain of my women’s team at Exeter back in 2013-14 had this habit. She once specifically talked about it with me. It was presumably something that developed as a young athlete. By the time she played for me she wasn’t actually looking over expecting feedback. It was just an automatic, likely mostly unconscious thing.

Gives you an idea of the sort of long-term impact a coach can have, doesn’t it?

I have written before about how I strongly favor an approach which encourages the players to be responsible for their own decisions, adjustments, etc. (see Calling plays from the bench). I’ve also written about the value of helping players reach the point where they can self-coach. Both of these are areas where we can focus on making our athletes more self-reliant.

At it’s core, encouraging players to make their own decisions and become their own coaches is the need for us to be able to stand back and let the players learn lessons for themselves. I know as teachers we all want to “fix” the mistakes we’re seeing being made. Keeping players from being reliant upon us, though, means resisting the urge to provide feedback on each and every rep. My own personal approach is to not say anything until I see a string off the same error being made. Even then, I want to take a more Socratic approach – asking the athlete to tell me what the problem is rather than just telling them – to get them thinking about it in their own way.

I think you can probably get away with praising a good execution more quickly, especially when working on something new. That tends to reinforce what you’re after. Just don’t go overboard and praise every single repetition.

You should probably also avoid a pattern I apparently fell into. Back when I was coaching at Brown I apparently had the players convinced I was only ever watching them when they made a mistake! While the players were joking about it, and not really taking it seriously, it made me realize I probably wasn’t mixing in enough praise. Lesson learned.

The other thing that factors in to the “look at the coach after the play” response is if they think you will yank them for making a mistake. That’s an athlete playing in fear, which you definitely don’t want.

Coaching Log – Aug 28, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

The first training session is on Monday!

I’ll return to Svedala this weekend. Aside from getting my domestic affairs sorted out, my first priority before Monday evening’s initial practice is meeting with the three American players. I will have a first full team meeting before Tuesday’s training session, but I want to talk about a few things with Camryn, Chelsey, and Mo that relate specifically to them and their status as the foreign players in the squad.

Right now I’m planning to do a playing-only session on Monday, which is a 2 hour slot at our secondary facility. Tuesday we’ll have a team meeting before we do the first proper training session in the main hall. I’ve asked that any “just training” or “want to try it out before making a decision” players be at the Tuesday session at a minimum, and Monday too if at all possible. My main meeting focus on Tuesday will be what I expect to see in training (behavior, attitude, etc.) and what the players can expect from me. I want “guest” players to know what my expectations are going in because they will be held to the same standards as everyone else.

Wednesday we have our first session of weight training as a team before practice. I’ll probably focus that on assessment with regards to a couple key exercises. I need to find out what the exercise club we’ll be using has for equipment, etc. Thursday is an off day. Friday night and Saturday morning will be regular training sessions of 3 hours and 2 hours respectively, though I doubt I’ll go the full time on Friday.

My main point of emphasis for the whole first week will be on seeing where the team and individuals are at in terms of both play and fitness so I can then start plotting our developmental path forward.

I found out this week that the revised schedule has been set following the late withdrawal of a team I mentioned previously. The plan is similar to the previous schedule where we were to play most teams home and away, but two teams close to us geographically another home and away round. Only in this case it will be three teams we play 4 times each rather than two, with Hylte/Halmstad added to Engelholm and Gislaved. The playoff structure was still being decided at last check.

The schedule for the pre-season tournament we’re playing in Denmark the last weekend of September has been released. It’s an 8-team tournament featuring a pair of 4-team pools. Pool A is Holte, Brøndby, Hylte/Halmstad, and Fortuna. Pool B is Engelholm, Svedala, Team Køge, Amager. So we’ll get to see the three Danish teams we have as competition in the Öresundsligan I mentioned before. Engelholm is also part of that league. Fortuna and Team Køge are both also from the Danish top division.

The third Swedish team in the Öresundsligan is Gislaved. It looks like we’ll play them the weekend before the above tournament as a 1-off friendly. Unfortunately, the timing of that is a bit awkward, as two of my players have been called up to the Sweden U19 camp next month in preparation for the NEVZA U19 tournament in October. Both have played for Sweden at the U17 level. One of those players is a middle, of which I currently only have two in the squad. Could make things a bit tricky in terms of line-up decisions.

From this point on I expect to shift the timing of these log entries. I won’t do them daily the way I did with Exeter in 2013-14 and 2014-15. This is mainly a function of having training or matches 5 days a week for the most part. That would just be too many entries and wouldn’t leave much room to write about anything else. I might do some daily entries in the case of very specific items of broad interest, but beyond that I’ll probably stick to a weekly publishing calendar and maybe post on Sunday or Monday.

Setter considerations

Part of the USA Volleyball Coaches Accreditation Program Level II (CAP II) requirements is that coaches write an article for publication. One such article was posted on the USAV website titled Recipe for a Setter by Peggy Kane-Hopton. In it, Peggy presents what she considers the five key characteristics of a good setter.

  1. Athletic ability and touch
  2. Communication and leadership
  3. Mental toughness
  4. Game understanding
  5. Physical attributes

One might be inclined to merge #1 and #5, but I think pretty much they all capture the main elements. They basically match what I talked about in the post Picking a Setter.

In the first section Peggy says “The setter’s most important skill is the ability to get to the ball.” A quick touch is the next important thing. This reminds me of a question posed to me by a former teammate. He’s now a Division I head coach at our alma mater. A few years back he asked if I would rate good feet or good hands higher for a setter. I said feet, and thus agree with Peggy. He said hands.

In the last section there’s a line that I think is so key.

“The setter must be able to move quickly to beat the ball to the spot.”

Along with setters not actually getting to target, this an issue for many setters. Instead of beating the ball and getting in a good position to execute the set, they time it and arrive at the same time as the ball. This means a less stable setting platform and almost certainly lower set consistency.

The one comment I would have that might be to the contrary of Peggy’s article is that sometimes the mental side of things can offset physical short-comings. A setter’s leadership skills and/or ability to read the game my make up for being undersized, a bit slow, or something along those lines.

Small squad volleyball training

I saw the following question posed by a volleyball coach. Most of us at some point in our coaching careers have to deal either with having a small squad or having limited numbers in training, so I thought it worth addressing.

I have 6-7 players, how can i create game like situation without enough to scrimmage each other? Our first game is coming soon so I’m really needing this week to get them set up in their positions, learn where they need to go….etc. But hard without having another team to play the ball back over….

I can relate. Once, in my first year coaching U16 girls it was just me and 6 players in training. I decided to play a little game with them at the end of the session. It was me against them. I served every ball and if I could dig their attack with control, or they could not return the ball, I got the point. If they could get a kill, they got the point.

Funnily, after I developed a solid lead mainly by digging their attacks (experience in reading an attacker has its advantages!), one of the girls said in exasperation, “Can we please stop hitting the ball right to John!?” 🙂

I liked hearing that. At least one of them was looking for the team to try to problem solve so they could beat me! I’m pretty sure I still won the game relatively comfortably, but they did get more competitive.

I tell this story as an example of how a little thought and creativity can lead to useful solutions. I’ve seen plenty of examples of a smaller number of players taking on a full squad. It’s just a question of finding rules and/or a scoring system. You want a system that makes things appropriately competitive. And it should see the players focused on whatever the keys are for that particular exercise.

It’s also worth looking at ways you can train game situations with elements of the team. A 3-v-3 game back row game is useful to work on defense against back row attacks and down balls. A game where you have an OH attacking into Zones 1 or 6 going against an OPP attacking into Zones 6 or 5 can be a highly game-like activity using a limited number of players. The same for having OHs going against each other with cross court attacks.

A serve reception example of this could be to put two passers in to cover 2/3rds of the court (say Zones 1 and 6) and having a setter and hitting element incorporated. If you set it up so it matches a serve receive rotational situation (such a setter penetrating from 1 with the MB in 3), then you can work quite nicely on key aspects of that phase of play without needing 6 players on one side.

With activities like that, it’s about taking what’s going on in a certain part of the court. You basically exclude the positions which wouldn’t be involved the the game scenario you’re training. That frees players up for something else to facilitate the exercise.

Advice for a pregnant volleyball player?

A while ago I got an email from a young volleyball player. It presents a case I honestly haven’t dealt with before. I post it here in hopes to get some thoughts from the volleyball coaching community. Here’s the situation.

I’ve played 6 years of volleyball starting in 7th grade and playing club. My 11th grade year I was in the process of being recruited and looked by college coaches to play on there team… But unfortunately towards the middle-end of my senior year… I got pregnant & will be having the baby in January of 2016.

I was going to start college in the fall but now I’m. Taking off this 2 year to have the baby & I’m currently taking online classes so I won’t be too behind. But the next following school year I plan on going back to a university in the fall of 2016. Would it be possible for me to try out for a volleyball team with a child if I work for it? Or how would that work? I loved playing volleyball more then anything and I don’t want to let having a baby come in the way of my dream.

I certainly applaud this young woman for wanting to continue to pursue her dream of playing in college. It’s certainly a challenging situation.

Because there’s a big recruiting aspect to this question, I sent it along to Matt at The College Volleyball Coach. He focuses a lot of college recruiting questions. His response wasn’t very upbeat:

I cannot think of any college volleyball coaches who would make accommodations for a player with a baby, unless she was unreal good.  Not because the college coaches are heartless people, but rather, they can easily recruit the same talents without the distraction of being a new mother.

Her only realistic option of transitioning to a college volleyball team would be with NAIA/JC, and with the full time assistance of a parent or adult to provide supreme care for the new child.

I’m not inclined to be quite so negative as Matt. I suspect there are NCAA Division III options available as well. Division I or II may be a bit much, though. The increased demands from a more year-round schedule, greater travel, etc. are a real issue.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject, especially if you’re a coach who has had a college player with a young child in your team. Please leave a comment below.

Thanks in advance.

Coaching Log – Aug 21, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

Just 10 days now until the first training session with the team!

I’m still in Germany, so not a whole lot to report on the Svedala front. I talked with our new foreign signing the other day. Not surprisingly, she had several questions – mainly about non-volleyball stuff. I think I was actually able to answer most of them! 🙂

I found out on Tuesday that one of the clubs has been forced to withdraw from the Elitserie. This likely means the schedule will have to be completely redone about 6 weeks out from when the season was set to begin. I’m not sure how that is going to be handled.

We’ve officially added a seventh Swedish player to the squad. She comes from another club where she was used as a utility player. I talked with her a bit during her decision-making process. She talked about wanting to be able to focus on one position – preferably not setter. We’ve already got two setters in the team, with the prospect of maybe adding a third, so that’s not an issue. At this point, odds probably favor her focusing on playing OPP, where we only have one other in the position.

There are a couple of additional Swedish players still in the mix to potentially join the squad. Some decisions may not be made until September.

On a different subject, it sounds like the club has found a place for me to live at last. There might be a significant wrinkle, though.

Volleyball coaching a distraction

Does this sound like you during the volleyball season?

Am I the only one that can’t get any work done during the day because I continually get distracted by thoughts of today’s drill schedule?

I know I certainly struggled keeping my focus on things that should have held my attention (work, studies, etc.) at various points and times. While I coached at Exeter volleyball issues frequently sidetracked my days. That was true even when I wasn’t coaching that evening. I remember in my early days of coaching college volleyball spending time developing practice plans while at my day job.

Needless to say, for the sake of our employment, grades, relationships, or whatever, this is probably not something we should be in the habit of allowing to happen. 🙂

Here’s a possible way to tackle this issue. Set aside some specific time during the day when you permit yourself the volleyball distraction. I suspect it’s not a good idea to just cut it out cold turkey.

On a related subject, I realized planning practice takes basically all the time I allow myself to do it. By that I mean if I start working on it 2 hours before training it takes 2 hours. If I give it 30 minutes it takes 30 minutes. To address this situation I don’t start putting together the actual training plan until a certain time each day.

That isn’t to say I don’t think about what I wanted to accomplish that session beforehand. That process begins pretty much as soon as my last contact with the team ended. It’s just that I am more efficient writing up the actual plan itself.

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