Archive for Volleyball Coaching

Looking at offensive performance by set and pass quality

In this previous post I shared some offensive and defensive numbers for the 2017 Midwestern State season. Part of what we shared with the team was the table below. It breaks our offensive performance down by set location/type and pass quality.

For the sake of clarity, let me explain the table.

The column labelled “Set to OH” includes any sets to the OH, including high balls, go’s, and 3s. For visual reference, those are the 4, hut, and 3/Rip on this set diagram (relatively few of the latter). They are broken down by pass or dig quality using the 3-point grading system. The first line for each group is Hitting Efficency, which is (Kills – Errors) / Total Attempts. The second and third lines are Kill % and Error % respectively. Basically, that just breaks the Hitting Efficiency number into its component parts.

I followed the same process for the right side attacks (“Set to RS”). For the middle and back row attacks, however, I did not use the pass rating splits. In the latter case there just weren’t enough observations to make it matter, especially since we did not have a focused back row attack. They were mainly out-of-system swings, which is probably pretty easy to guess from the poor numbers.

Collecting this information is relatively simple, if you have someone dedicated to doing so. I did it myself on the bench during matches using pen and paper. It would have been much more efficient and easier to manage if we had something like DataVolley, but we didn’t. So we made do.


As a staff we were quite surprised by some of the numbers above. For example, we would not have predicted that slides were our most efficient middle hitter attack. It was something that really ran hot and cold. It would go from unstoppable to you can’t buy a kill. No doubt the latter skewed our perceptions. That’s a real risk, which is why stats are so important for good analysis.

The other surprising thing was the effectiveness of our in-system outside sets, especially compared to our middle attacks. You expect middles to generally go for a higher Kill % than pin hitters. That was clearly not the case for us. Even worse, our middles had a higher Error % in places. On reason for the high OH effectiveness on the good passes and digs is that we did a good job running the Shoot-Go combination. That gave our OHs some really good, open swings.

The anemic performance of our RS attack came as no surprise. We had a tall player in that position who was a blocking force, but just didn’t generate the power in her swings she needed to be really effective in our conference. Plus, her confidence wasn’t very high, so she wasn’t as aggressive as she really needed to be.

Putting it to use

The MSU attack just didn’t produce kills at a high enough rate last season. The table above lets us identify the specific areas where improvement is needed. The right side is near the top of the list. We will likely continue to struggle if we can’t get at least to a Kill % comparable to that of our OHs.

The second big thing is the middle attack. The error rates for Slides and Shoots were too high, which is likely a combination of poor attacking and poor sets. The error rate for 1s was more reasonable, but the Kill % was relatively low. That should be north of 40% for a team like ours.

Address those two parts of our game, while keeping our OHs performing at about the same level, and we would be a very competitive team in our conference.

Coaching Log – March 26, 2018

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

Spring Break has passed and it’s time to get back to work!

This is the non-traditional part of the NCAA season. In Division II we’re allowed a 45-day period during which we can do 15 hours per week of athletically-related activity. That’s 5 hours less than what we’re allowed during the regular season. We also have to give the players at least two days off per week, compared to one day off in the Fall. As in the main season, we have to stop no less than one week before finals begin, which means late April.


This remains a small groups day because of class schedules. We have one middle come in with the setter for about an hour, then the other middle and one of the liberos working with the setter for a second hour. Lots of blocking and working on shoot (31s) and slide footwork/timing/setting, with a bit of defense mixed in for the setter and libero.

The third group was all the pin hitters. They started off with a 3 v 3 serving and passing game. From there we progressed to narrow court doubles Neville Pepper. Then it was two versions of a 3 v 3 game where only kills counted for points (winner of the rally receives serve). First it was back row only, then we allowed hitting on the net. So they got a lot of everything. In the future we might make this a more technical session, but this allowed them to get back into things after the break.


The first full team session of the Spring season was a mixture of elements. We started with Brazilian volleytennis as a warm-up. We then shifted to serving, first to warm-up, then focused on targets. The third segment was a serve-pass-attack exercise.

The rest of the session was all game play. We did a 3s version of Neville Pepper on a narrow court. It was only OK with 10 players. The tempo didn’t feel right to me. I probably won’t use it again in that fashion – at least as our team comprises right now.

A series of 5 v 6 games took up most of the last hour. The scoring was earned points only (kills, aces, blocks), so we just went to 10. The rally winner served the next ball, giving them the first chance to score. After the first game I flipped the right sides, then I flipped the outsides after the second. The setters were back row the whole time, along with the liberos. Had we played another game I was going to move the setters to front row so I could get at least one of the pins playing back row.

After practice we had a team meeting to go over a few administrative things and to talk about the big focal points for the next several weeks. That’s basically getting better on offense.


This was a challenging session because some players had to arrive late and/or leave early due to classes. Also, I had to run things myself and we had two courts going. We used both throughout at least the first half of the session. It started with 2 v 2 pepper where on one side the players had to hit straight balls on 3rd contact while on the other side they had to hit cross. From there we did some serving, then moved on to a position focus. The pins and liberos did serve and pass while the middles and setter worked on their timing.

After that they were all on one court for some game play. At first it was an unscored middle/left vs middle right 5 v 5 game. We couldn’t go as long as I’d have liked as one of our two middles had to leave. We finished with a pair of cross-court 4 v 4 games. Scoring was earned points only. Balls hit off the block, but into the out-of-bounds part of the court were a wash. The players served to start each rally.


We started this day’s session with 3-person and 4-person over-the-net pepper. From there we moved on to serving, with work on serving deep line and short cross. That progressed into a variation of serving and passing quads where we had the passing target set to an outside target. That means everyone got some hand setting in.

Next up was serve-pass-attack as a prelude to playing 5 v 6. The other day we did that with the setters in the back row. This time the setters were front row, and I had the outsides and rights switching around between playing defense in the back row and hitting through 4.

The setter had to go to class, so we finished up with some out-of-system work. We played two games focused on attacking the corners.The first one was back row only swings, with one player up to set/block, and three in the back row. The second game it was two up and two back. The scoring for both was 1 point for any attack to a corner, as long as it was in the court. If one of those swings resulted in a kill, a second point was awarded. Anything else did not count. I think next time I play something like this we’ll do -1 for a hit in the net.

The intensity took a clear dip during the last phase. It was a challenging exercise and the frustration level was higher than usual. As a result, the players turned more inward. It’s something I talked with them about afterwards.


This was our first sand session of the year – one of four we’re likely to do, depending on weather. This isn’t as much as we did last year went we hit the sand twice a week. That’s a function of scheduling considerations, primarily.

These sand days are all about competition. I split the team into two groups of 5, they each were at the court for 2 hours with one of those hours overlapping. When each group was on it’s own we set them up to play a series of 10 rounds of a doubles version of Neville Pepper. That allowed each player to partner with all the others. The three that were not the pair on the “winners” side rotated around, since we couldn’t do multiple teams. The plan is to mix the groups up each time out, keeping score throughout to see which player finishes with the most points on the “winners” side.

For the overlapping period, we mostly did a 3-player version of the same thing, though for the last 10 minutes our so we did Speedball 2s.. This was necessarily slower, with all the extra players, but two hours at the doubles pace would have been too much. As it was, the second wave players were clearly fatigued toward the end of their hour. Though, a couple of them are not currently at optimal fitness levels.

Strength & Conditioning

The team continued to do their Monday/Wednesday/Friday morning work with our strength coach. He pared back the load, though, to accommodate the increased court time. Mainly, that meant less sprint work and more agility type stuff when he had them in the gym.


I attended the North Texas Region’s 18s national bid tournament. Primarily, that was to see our early signees in action, as I haven’t had much chance so far. In particular, I wanted to see our incoming outside hitter, as I haven’t seen her play since last club season. There were also a few 2019 kids playing on 18s teams that I had a look at, along with one of the 2018 setters we’ve had visit.

Community service

As we’ve done monthly through this term, the team did two hours of tutoring help with local disadvantaged kids on Saturday. Well, those who were available, as several had coaching duties. I did not attend because I was doing another thing (see below). Apparently, there was some grumbling, though, about how strict the guy running the tutoring program was. Our other assistant, however, didn’t think he was over the top – just holding his usual line of discipline (which is very high).


On Saturday I got to help man a table during a big Admissions open house on campus. They provided lunch for the attendees in our coliseum and various groups and departments had booths/tables set up. Athletics was one of them. Myself and a couple of others hung out answering what questions we could questions. Mostly, it was the more junior assistant coaches, though the head football coach did stop by for a while after his team finished with practice.

Is offense or defense more important in volleyball?

Which do you think is more important to the success of a volleyball team – offense or defense?

Generally speaking, the answer could very well depend on whether you’re from the men’s or the women’s side of the sport. In my experience, women’s coaches tend to prioritize defense more than men’s coaches.

I probably would have been one of those women’s coaches who said “defense” once upon a time. I had a very clear demonstration of the limitations of that thinking, though.

The Exeter experience.

My first year coaching the Exeter women we had a pretty good defense. This was demonstrated in our playoff match against Loughborough, which was a good team at that time. We got into some really long rallies with them and constantly foiled their attackers. The problem was we couldn’t get kills going back the other way. Just didn’t have the fire power. We were good enough to compete, but not good enough to win.

That changed the following year. We had a major offensive upgrade. Now we could win those rallies we couldn’t the year before. The result was a trip to the national semifinal.

A more detailed example

In a moment I will share some figures with you. Let me first set the stage, though.

In the 2016 season, the Midwestern State (MSU) team I coached finished 8th in the Lone Star Conference, out of 11 teams. It was a meaningful improvement over the performance the year before (winless in conference). Our defense was really poor, though. We ranked 9th in opponent hitting efficiency (.221) and 10th in blocks/set (1.27).

Naturally, we made defense a big focus for improvement in the off-season. It paid off. In 2017 we moved up to 6th in opponent hitting efficiency (.183) and jump all the way to 4th in blocks/set (2.20). That means we moved up the standings, right?

Nope. In fact, we dropped a spot and finished 9th.

Were we more competitive? Absolutely! We took sets off teams in 2017 – including nationally ranked opponents – we didn’t get close to in 2016. We even had one more match win in conference.

What did not improve was our offense, and that made all the difference.

Here’s a look at the conference statistical rankings for key offensive and defensive areas.


We’ll start with the attacking side of things. Take note of how closely the final standing of each team matches its rank in terms of hitting efficiency. Only in the case of Kingsville and West Texas is there a variation. The two of them were reversed in terms of their offensive rank, though we can really say they tied. Kingsville had one more match victory than West Texas.

Of course hitting efficiency is calculated as (Kills – Errors)/Total Attempts. Thus, we can break it down and look at Kill % and Error % separately. Compare the Kill% and Error % ranks in the table above and you’ll notice something interesting.

Tarleton is clearly well ahead of everyone else with a Kill% about 39. Commerce and Angelo are very close in the 2 and 3 spots in the 37s. Then the next four teams are also very tightly bunched together in the 34s. After that you have a steady progression lower as you move down the ranks. Overall, there is about an 11% difference between top and bottom.

Things aren’t nearly so orderly when it comes to Error %. First of all, the spread from best (Commerce) to worst (Permian) is only about 4%. Most teams are in the 14%-15% range. The 10th worst team in terms of errors actually finished 7th in the standings.

When you see this it seems pretty clear that the kill side of things weighs more heavily on performance than the error side. That’s not to say errors don’t matter. Obviously, they do. But kills seem to matter more when it comes to winning and losing, and there’s a lot more variation.


Now let’s look at how teams did stopping their opposition from scoring. The opponent hitting efficiency gives us a general measure of that. The top three teams in the standings were also the top three teams in terms of defending. No doubt the strength of their offense is a factor there. After all, if you’re hitting is strong it makes for more difficult transition opportunities coming back the other way when you don’t get a kill.

Below the top three the rankings and the final standings position deviate quite a bit. MSU is a prime example. We had the 6th best opponent efficiency, but only finished 9th. Western New Mexico was four places below us in the defensive rankings, but won two more matches than we did.

Now compare the opponent Kill% rankings to those for the hitting efficiency ones. They are almost identical. That tells us that opponent hitting errors don’t really matter much. This really bears out when we look at the Block % figures. That’s the percentage of times that team blocked an opposing attack. They are all over the place! The bottom two blocking teams finished right in the middle of the standings, while the second best blocking side ended up 10th.

The edge to the offense

Based on the figures in the table above, it looks like offense correlates more closely to final league standings than defense. This, of course, is a narrow study. It features teams from one of the stronger conferences in NCAA Division II volleyball for just a single season. As such, it might not be fully representative. Even so, it at least gives us something to think about.

Here’s some further analysis along these lines.

Do you foster a culture of alibis?

Back in 2014 I spent about 10 days at German woman’s club SC Potsdam during their preseason. Their coach at that time was Alberto Salomoni. Alberto shared the following on Facebook once. I believe it’s a translation from Italian.

“…. those who do sport know that you can not always win. The exception is to always win. The normal thing is the alternation of victory and defeat. I always said that i was proud of the team that won two World Championships and two European Championships, but i am equally proud of the team that lost the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992. I am equally proud for one reason: because they knew how to lose. As we lost we did not say the referee was guilty, we did not have luck, one player, the coach or the manager were guilty. We said the opponents was better then us. Stop.

We built a mentality with the team, fighting what we call “the culture of the alibis”. What is an alibi? An alibi is to explain to someone, thing that i cannot do. Not because i am not able, but because there are always other reasons that have nothing to do with me or with my behavior/attitude. We are not the dream team, we are a team that dreams. Our dream is to win the Olympic Games and we will do everything for win it. If we will not win, we will not consider ourselves as loser. We will know that we failed a goal.

To failed a goal it does not mean that we are in the shit of the history of sport. This is very important especially for young people. Young people have to try to win in sport as much as possible. But don´t believe to people that say that the world is divided between winners and losers. In my opinion the world is divided especially between good and bad persons. This is the most important lesson. Then between bad persons are winners…unfortunately. And between good persons are unfortunately losers…”

Julio Velasco, “Il laureato” 1995

One day, hopefully we can get Velasco to do a Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview, as he is one of the true legendary coaches in our sport. I had the opportunity to see him present at the 2015 High Performance Coaches Clinic. As his comments above indicate, he’s got some really deep insights into coaching. Mark Lebedew shared another.

So, do you and/or your players get caught up in “alibis”?

I should note, Velasco’s comments remind me of something fellow legend John Wooden has talked about. He said in Wooden on Leadership that he was more proud of a team doing it’s absolute best than of winning a championship.

Reversion to the mean and why you need to understand it

The term “reversion to the mean” or “regression to the mean” may sound complicated, but it really isn’t. In statistics the term mean is the same as saying average. Reversion or regression in this context just indicates moving back to. Put it all together and you get moving back to average. Pretty straightforward, right?

Why is this important for you to understand as a coach?

Because it speaks to how we react to players under- or over-performing. Even more, it speaks to the cause we link to the effect of a player doing better or worse in the future.

Let me use the following graph to explain.

What you see above is a fairly typical bell curve. It indicates the likelihood of something. In this case, let’s think in terms of a volleyball player’s performance. The horizontal axis is performance from very bad to very good. The vertical axis is probability, from low to high. As you move along the bell curve line you get the odds the player performs at a given level. The odds are low that they perform either very poorly or very well, while the odds are relatively high that they perform somewhere around their average.

Here’s where the reversion or regression part comes in.

Look at the red X. That indicates a pretty bad performance, right? Notice I put a green arrow pointing to the right next to the X. Why? Because, all else being equal, chances are the player will do better in their next opportunity.

Similarly, you’ll see that I put a red arrow pointing left next to the green check mark at a pretty good performance point. Odds are the player won’t be as good next time.

Think about what all this means for how you react to the player. If they just had a bad performance and are probably going to have a good one next time out because the odds favor it, will you yelling at them or punishing them accomplish anything?

Flip that around. If the player just did very well and is probably not going to do as well next time, does it make sense to get overly excited about it?

Here’s a video where John Kessel from USA Volleyball talks about this using a basketball analogy.

So chances are what we say or do is not the cause that leads to the effect of the player doing better or worse next time.

All else not equal?

You’ll note that I said expectations of future performance were, all else equal, that they’d be somewhere around the average. That “all else equal” bit is important and is part of the side of coaching that’s likely more art than science. How you react to a player’s performance has to be linked to whether there is an underlying cause or not. If there is an underlying cause, then what you’re seeing actually reflects the player operating with a different performance distribution than their usual one.

Let’s say a player is sick, as an easy example. If a player is not feeling well then you will think of their expectations in terms of a “performance when sick” curve rather than the general one we’ve been talking about up to now. It features a distribution somewhat left of the usual one. Average performance in this case is probably going to be at a level that would be considered poor by the players’ normal standards.

There are, of course, lots of possible reasons why a player’s performance distribution curve could be temporarily shifted left of where it usually is. Part of your job as a coach is to try to find a way to get it shifted back. That’s not realistic with a sick or injured player, but if it’s one who’s distracted, lacking motivation, or something like that, then it’s something you can address.

From the opposite perspective, maybe a player performs better when mom is at the match. Their performance curve when she’s in attendance is to the right of where you normally see it. From a coaching perspective, you should then be looking at how you can make that shift permanent – aside from assuring Mom’s at every match, of course.

Coach induced shifts

If a player is just having an off day with no real cause, you could actually make things worse by yelling at or punishing them. If it negatively impacts their mood, focus, etc. then you just became the source of the kind of left shift in their performance distribution I talked about above. The same could possibly be true if you excessively praise a player for a good performance. They might start feeling the pressure of expectations.

There are, of course, players who do better after some sharp words or when they know Coach is happy with how they’ve done. This is where knowing your players becomes extremely important.

Starters vs. Subs

It’s worth noting that generally speaking starters are the players with a higher mean level of performance. On average, they perform better than the non-starters. That’s why they are starters. This then ties in with the question of substitutions if a starter is under-performing or the team isn’t doing well.

I should note that players don’t all have the same performance distribution shape. Here’s an example of three different distributions with the same average.

Notice you have the one we’ve been using up to now, which is the one with the 2nd highest peak. You can also see a higher peaked, but more narrow distribution. That indicates a very consistent performer. The last one is wider and flatter, which is what you’d see from a player with very wide performance swings. They can be exceedingly good, but also extremely poor.

Here’s something else worth looking at.

In this case we have players with different averages. The better one has that narrow, tall distribution of the very consistent player. The one with the lower average has a broader range of performance. Generally speaking, the one with the higher average will outperform the other. We can see, though, that there is a little part of the other player’s distribution that goes further to the right. That means sometimes, though not often, they will be the better player of the two.

Raising the mean over time

At the end of the video above John talks briefly about how the job of the coach is the raise a player’s (and team’s) average performance. This simple graph is a representative of that.

You can see in the diagram how the distributions progressively shift to the right. Remember, the horizontal access is performance, so this shows someone getting better over time. In fact, if you look at the right-most curve it does not overlap at all with the left-most curve. That’s a situation where on their worst day a player will do better now than they could ever have done in their initial situation. Think about an 18 year-old player compared to their 14 year-old self. Naturally, the rightward shifts in the performance distribution become smaller as the player gains mastery and experience.

Our job as coaches is, through training and other developmental work, to keep the player’s mean performance rising. How we most effectively do that is the subject of other conversations.


Mark Lebedew and others have provided research into the effectiveness of timeouts. Basically, they find little or none (sideout percentages after timeouts are basically the same as their average). This is another area of coaching where reversion to the mean is a possible explanation for what we think we see. And of course there’s also the question of confirmation bias, but that’s a different subject.

Note: If you want to learn more about the concept of reversion to the mean and other things related to how we humans incorrectly link cause and effect and otherwise trip ourselves up in our interpretation of things, Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow is a good resource.


A college coach’s recruiting conundrum

Here’s an interesting situation presented by a college coach.

I’m in year one of a three year old program at a small Christian NAIA school. I’ve been told it’s my program as long as I get my roster number and run it clean and have good kids who are graduating and making strides in the community.

There’s a current group of juniors who have endured a couple of really bad seasons (this season should be our best in program history). As I’m reviewing my recruiting and commitments to the team next year, some player will lose significant playing time to newcomers. My question: do you recruit to replace your current players, add depth, get warm bodies, etc? I love for depth and people to compete for their time at this level but don’t want to make this first large class of seniors last year a bench warming experience. Thoughts?

This is from a Facebook group and got some interesting responses. One of them was, “Your job is to recruit better players than the ones you currently have. Full stop.”

I have a couple problems with that statement, but I’ll focus on the one related to priorities.

First, the priority

Review what the posting coach said the priorities are for their program. Make the roster number (some minimum squad size). Run a clean program. Have good student-athletes who graduate on time and are active in the community. I didn’t see anything about winning, or even being competitive, in there. Did you?

By the way, this type of attitude from the administration is not uncommon at the college level. There are many schools where competitiveness is not a priority. Some blame that on volleyball being a second tier (or lower) sport, which is certainly often true. There are colleges, however, that simply see athletics as part of the student experience – across all sports. Winning for them is just not that important.

It’s all fine and good to want to win. If, however, your boss doesn’t care about wins and losses, you have other priorities to consider. If you think you want to move on some day, you may think the winning and losing will matter to future employers. That’s probably true, but who is going to be on top of your list of references for future jobs. Your current boss (Athletic Director), right? If you don’t do the job they want, do you think they’ll give you a good reference? That’s assuming you don’t simply get fired.

So, for this coach the first recruiting priority is bringing enough players in to make the number. They need to be good students, as well as good citizens.

Of course, I’m not saying you can’t recruit good players and fulfill the above criteria. It’s just that when it comes to favoring one side or the other, the bias has to be toward the above.

Team chemistry

While it’s not specifically on the priority list outlined, you know at least a reasonably positive team chemistry is desirable. No Athletic Director wants to hear about disharmony in a team, especially if it means players (and perhaps parents) calling them to complain. Having a bunch of upperclassmen riding the pine is a quick way to having serious chemistry issues.

That is unless those seniors buy in.

Some times you get players who have suffered so long with the losing and poor performance they just want to be part of something good. They might be willing to sacrifice their own playing time for better overall team performance.

Of course sometimes they say that, then don’t actually live up to it.

So the question is whether you think you can keep those players “recruited over” reasonably happy. They won’t get the playing time, but are there other ways they can still have a role in the team that’s meaningful to them?

One way to go

If you think lack of playing time for upperclassmen is going to cause problems, maybe the best approach is to gradually trickle in higher quality athletes. Instead of bringing in five new players who could start, maybe you bring in 1-2 this year and then build things up over time. That also lets you build toward the type of team culture you want.

The bottom line is it isn’t always good to just go out and recruit the best players you can find.

Coaching Log – March 12, 2018

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

It’s Spring Break as this post goes up. A little bit of a pause to refresh before things get serious during the last phase of the academic year. Nothing new on the the head coach position. At this point we’re still waiting for the official post to go up.


I mentioned in the last update that we had some pressure come up to make a move on offering a 2018 recruit. Shortly after, the same happening with regards to another. As a result, we had to move forward more quickly on things than desired. Nothing we could do about that, though. We had to make the decisions and line the commitments up.

The middle we offered accepted over the first weekend of the month.


One of the more fun aspects of Spring for college coaches is trying to figure out a schedule for team and small group practices. Player schedules are all over the place. It’s like a puzzle. In this case it was about looking at the post-Spring Break calendar and working out team practice times. We could have scheduled things for early mornings (I’m talking like 6am starts), but we decided not to go that route.

Monday is completely unworkable from a team perspective, so we made that a small group day. The rest of the week we shoehorned practices between class times. In some cases players will have to arrive late or leave early. Looks like Fridays we’ll get out on the sand.

We also had to plan out our Spring tournament the first Saturday of April. That was mainly about trying to line up the various requests of the five other teams that will play.

In terms of the 2018 season, we got the schedule for our second weekend tournament. We’re going to Nebraska-Kearney, who we played in 2017 (#9 in the final poll). I reached out to a couple of non-conference schools about filling our two unfilled dates, but they were already booked up. I’m not too worried about it. We’re going to play 4 out of 5 Tuesdays in October just for conference matches. Even trying to fit them in during September isn’t straightforward as we have to think about our weekend schedules and travel considerations.


The final week of February/first week of March we had gym restrictions. As a result, we did one day of team practice and one day of overlapping group work. The latter was mainly about working on technical elements. Attack was the main focus as neither of our liberos was available.

During the full team session the main focus was a series of games with a certain scoring system. One of the things I’m trying to do when having the team all together playing is to create different types of challenges. This time I wanted the hitters attacking from non-traditional locations. For example, the middles might hit on the pin while the outside hit in the middle. The base scoring of the game was oriented toward first ball side out (FBSO). A team could only score on a kill from the first ball in serve reception. They received a bonus point if that kill came from a hitter hitting “out of position”. If there was no FBSO, then whoever won the rally earned the right to receive the next serve.

The first full week of the month we did hour-long full-team sessions on Tuesday and Thursday. On for Tuesday, expecting eight healthy bodies, I planned a doubles version of Speedball, then the high ball game we’ve played before. In the latter case with bonus points for kills from hand sets as well as for blocks. We ended up with nine, though, so I had to change things up a bit. Basically, I just had one more player on on side and used a rotation. There was a bit of time left over after the high ball games, so I filled in with Winners 3s where the off team came in from the side rather than serving in.

On Thursday I started them off with a competitive serving and passing drill for about the first 10 minutes. They were in teams by position – 2 middles, 2 outsides, 2 right sides, then our setter and a libero. From there we moved on to Winners 2s with a twist. The winners side had a setter, but the challenge side did not. So it was 3 v 2. And to further the twist, we rotated who that fixed setter was. Each player took a turn.

The last part of the session was a narrow court (about 2/3rds) 4 v 4 game. There were a couple of bonus point opportunities. A team got a point for any decent double block, regardless of the outcome (so in theory you could get multiple points in a rally). A team got two bonus points for a block-out kill, meaning 3 overall. Rallies were begun via alternating down balls from coaches, so the tempo was high. We got two games to 25 completed in I think about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, our strength coach had the players going strong in the weight room, along with a mixture of speed/agility and conditioning work in the gym.

Office clean-up

The Volleyball assistant coaches’ office was in desperate need of a clean-up. Over the course of a week or two we got everything organized (the office doubles as storage for things like uniforms and player gear). We also got rid of some junk and other stuff that wasn’t serving any purpose. All that was left was to have facilities come in and haul away some worthless old furniture type stuff. When they did so it really opened up the space!



Creating pressure in practice

How do you create pressure situations in your practice?

That’s a question coaches ponder a lot. Especially when they see their team crumble in intense match situations.

The fact of the matter, though, is that there are different types of pressure. Some are mainly individual, while others are more team.

Individual pressure

In the case of individual pressure, we’re talking about a situation where one player must execute. That could be at the service line. It could be in serve reception. Or it could be as a hitter. These are situations where the individual player feels the pressure to perform well. Actually, it’s probably more a “not screwing up” type of pressure in terms of their self-talk, but that’s a different subject.

Creating individual pressure requires putting a player in a position where they have to execute. There’s an example of this in John Cook’s book, Dream Like a Champion. In it he describes a hitter vs. defense game where one attacker must win a game against a full defense. If they lose, they play again. They repeat the game until the player wins.

Now, that’s an example of individual pressure in a very individualized situation. There are also ways to create individual pressure in a more team situation. The run-and-serve drill is an example of this from a serving perspective. If we think of serve reception, though, we can create a situation where one player receives every ball. Their team cannot execute the offense if they cannot provide a good pass. Alternatively, flip things around and say that only a specific hitter can score.

Team pressure

While individual pressure is about putting the spotlight on a specific player (or position), team pressure is about the collective. This is about the team needing to come back from behind, or perhaps to close out a set when ahead. It’s about them staying focused and connected when the pressure is on, and not falling victim to fear and doubt.

One interesting game you can play from this perspective is 25 or reset. I’ve also seen it referred to as “slip and slide”. Basically, if a team gets to 24 and does not score they have to reset back to wherever you started the score (e.g. 19). This combines the pressure to close a team out with the drive to keep fighting if you’re the losing team.

On a smaller scale, wash games are little pressure situations. The team must, for example, win two rallies in a row. That increases the pressure on the second ball – for both sides.


A lot of coaches use some kind of punishment for losing to create pressure, like sprints. I’m not a fan of this, as I’ve discussed. Further, research suggests it actually may not improve motivation. If the desire to win is intrinsic, then losing should be enough of a punishment. You don’t need anything else. If your players aren’t naturally competitive, then you need to tie something they care about in terms of playing the game to winning. That, though, is a different topic of discussion.

Similarly, if a player cares at all about the quality of their play, then failing to execute at an individual level will leave them feeling disappointed. Why, then, is anything extra required? If your players are not worried about their quality of play, then you may have some other problems to address before worrying about how they do under pressure.


How to add conditioning to your volleyball practice

I came across the following question from a volleyball coach having to do with conditioning in practice.

Anyone have any conditioning drills? I don’t want to just condition my girls without adding some volleyball into it, as they have a whole other practice specifically for conditioning. But we are slow and need to build up speed and stamina. Drills that require constant movement, reps, etc.

Speed vs Stamina

Speed and stamina are two separate issues. Raw speed is a function of power production. That comes mainly from specific speed/power training. That’s not something you will develop while playing/practicing volleyball. It’s more about things like weight training and plyometric work.

That said, there are elements of a player’s overall speed and quickness which are a function of game training. They are technique and readiness. The more efficient and automatic one’s technique (see The Talent Code), the faster or quicker they will be able to execute that skill. Similar, if a player is able to anticipate something happening – thanks to good reading skills – they will be quicker to play the ball.

Developing Stamina

Building player stamina in practice is a much easier thing to accomplish. In fact, it’s really simple. You either have to increase intensity or make things last longer. The latter is straightforward as you just have to increase the time between breaks. Nothing complicated about that!

As for increasing intensity, what I’m talking about is increasing the number of repetitions in a given period of time. For example, in normal game play where each rally begins with a serve it might be 20 seconds per rally. If you play 22 v 22 where you immediately put in a second ball after the initial rally, though, you could perhaps get two rallies in 30 seconds (15 seconds per rally, on average). And if you want to really ramp it up you could play something like Scramble where you might have four rallies in 30 seconds (averaging 7-8 seconds each).

The Second Chance idea is along those same lines. With it you could almost create what is a non-stop rally. It’s not exactly like that, but there’s very little time between the time when play breaks down and you get it going again. And if the same player makes repeated mistakes, they get lots of conditioning!

Even pepper can be a form of conditioning.

No need to lose practice time to conditioning

Because you can control intensity and/or duration in your practice, there’s no need to waste volleyball time on conditioning work (e.g. sprints). Why do something without the ball you can easily accomplish the same with it?

Now, if you only practice a couple times a week, that might not be enough total work. In that case, you’ll want the athletes doing something to keep/get their fitness level up. Cardio is not the answer here, though, especially during season. Volleyball has about a 1:3 work to rest ratio. That means a player is active for say 10 seconds, then rest for 30 – on average. This is very different from running or biking for 30 minutes straight. In fact, those sorts of longer duration exercises are counterproductive for volleyball as they train slow, repetitive movements rather than quick, explosive bursts.

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