Archive for Volleyball Coaching

Using competition in training, even for skill development

Mark Lebedew wrote a pair of posts on the use of competition in volleyball practice, both from a positive and negative perspective. Basically, his view is that adding competition makes for better practices. At the same time, though, competition can also distract from your training focus. I want to speak here on the latter point.

Mark makes the following observation.

When players compete in practice they tend to play more conservatively. They donโ€™t use the techniques and solutions that they have most recently learnt because they are not yet confident in those techniques and solutions. The imperative is to win.

To facilitate learning, sometimes it is necessary to program unscored drills and scrimmages in your practice.

I definitely agree with Mark. When players are judged on outcomes (winning) it is hard for them to be experimental. They will want to use what they feel is more proven and fall back on established habits.

What if the scoring, though, relates to what you want them working on?

I’m thinking along the lines of the bonus point scoring idea. Players earn points for executing a skill the way you are teaching them, or for attempting something they are trying to learn.

For example, let’s say you’re working on serve reception and you want the players focused on platform angle. Maybe they earn a point each time they hold their platform when they pass.

What about a situation where you’re encouraging more experimentation? Let’s think about hitters working on attacking the block rather than simply trying to avoid it. They could earn a point each time they clearly attempted to use the block, regardless of the final result.

At a team level we could think about certain types of plays. Say you have an inexperienced group and you want to develop the quick attack. They could earn a point each time they try it in a game play situation – no matter the final outcome

You can mix and match the things you score for such that different players each have their own ways to score. And maybe there are team opportunities as well. This way you can continue having competitive games – with or without the normal point-per-rally scoring included – while continuing to have players focused on learning.

There’s a game the USA women’s team uses called Bonus Point Bingo which incorporates these kinds of ideas.

Coaching Log – February 26, 2018

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

Nothing new on the the head coach subject. As of this writing, the position has not yet officially been opened for applications.

Recruiting

We had a pair of 2018 prospects on campus on the 13th to work out with the team – one middle and one setter. On the 20th we also had 2018 setters visit. The setter is the bigger priority given the decommit we had. We’d like to add another middle for cover, though. It’s a bit risky to only carry the three we have at present.

Because we don’t currently have a head coach, we’ve been holding off of making offers. It’s something we’ve talked with each recruit about so they know the situation. Basically, we’ve told them to let us know if they start feeling pressure to make a decision. This came up in one case. As a result, I spoke with the Athletic Director. He said he’ll back us on the decision we make.

Looking ahead to 2019, it was back on the road to attend a North Texas regional event on the 24th.

Training

Because of the recruits coming in, our schedule was a bit inconsistent. Strength and conditioning work continued three mornings a week. The players did standing and approach jump testing on the 12th and 14th respectively. Some of the results were surprisingly. The real test, though, will come when they are re-evaluated later in the term to check their progress.

When the two came on the 13th we used our whole week’s allocation of court time in a 2-hour session. Evaluation of the recruits was our biggest priority, so we did a combination of activities. We got the moving and talking and competing by starting with some Brazilian volley tennis. From there we did 3s back row only Winners, then some target serving. That rolled into some serve receive-to-attack so the two recruits could get a sense of our offensive tempo. Then we basically played for the final hour. That was mainly a couple different versions of 5-a-side 22 v 22, but they played a short normal game of 5 v 5 at the end. We got the session on video for later analysis.

In a funny quirk, we actually had to push our practice on the 20th back to the 21st, then roll that whole thing into the 22nd. It started with a bunch of rain on the 20th causing outdoor sports to come indoors. We were also down a couple players to injuries. Then, the university was shut down on the 21st due to freezing rain conditions, so we couldn’t go that day. Poor road conditions kept campus closed on the 22nd as well. Thus, what was supposed to be a Tuesday/Thursday week became just a Friday week.

In the end, we decided to split into two groups and go about an hour for each. That was because they had a heavy morning workout, so going two hours wasn’t going to make a lot of sense. The pin hitters and liberos were in one group. They worked mainly on serving and passing. The middles and setters were in the other, working on set timing.

Community service

Saturday we did our second round of tutoring with the local area kids. A couple players weren’t available because of club coaching duties. One other had to go to Kansas for a family thing. A pair of our seniors filled in. It was funny talking to them after. In some cases, the stuff they worked with the kids on challenged the players. ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Setting up your starting rotation: 5-1

How should I set my line-up?

I’ve addressed this in broad strokes in the Putting together a starting line-up post. Here, though, I want to drill down. I’m going to look specifically at how you place the players on the court by position.

Here’s the most common way teams line-up when playing a 5-1 system.

Let me explain the abbreviations.

S = Setter
M1 = Stronger Middle
M2 = Weaker Middle
O1 = Stronger Outside Hitter
O2 = Weaker Outside Hitter
OPP = Opposite

So, if someone (like me) talks about their O2 or M1, you know they are referring to positions relative to the setter. The 1’s are next to the setter.

Note: The fact that the setter in the diagram is in Position 1 isn’t meant to suggest that’s the best place to start them. There are a number of factors which figure in to whether you start there or in a different rotation.

Balance

The basic idea with the ordering of the player positions this way is balance. That’s how the above diagram came to be. The better middle is next to the setter and the weaker outside. Likewise, the stronger outside is also next to the setter as well as the weaker middle. Further, when the O2 and M2 are both in the front row, the opposite is also in the front row, providing three attackers, rather than just two.

Now, how you judge your stronger/weaker middles and outside hitters can vary. The initial thought may be balancing things offensively, but it doesn’t have to be that way. For example, if your setter is not a good blocker, you may put your better blocking middle at M1 to create more balance from that perspective.If your middles have similar attacking abilities, then looking at their blocking can be very useful.

Serve reception is another way you may try to balance things. I once saw a coaching friend of mine put his strongest outside hitter at O2 rather than O1. When I asked him why he told me it was about passing. In his system the O1 passed in the middle of the formation more often than the O2, but his stronger attacker was not his strongest passer. Moving him to O2 reduced his exposure in serve receive, helping to balance things out in that way.

Middle leads, or outside leads?

You will notice in the formation above that the M1 leads the setter in the rotation. We refer to this as a “middle leads” arrangement. Though it’s not as frequently seen, some teams do use an “outside leads” set-up.

Why is the middle leads system generally favored?

It comes down to serve receive. The system where the outside leads can create some awkward reception formations, and fewer options. The middle leads approach tends to offer more flexibility.

The above, though, assumes you’re mainly using your outsides and libero to pass. Most teams do this, of course, but you may find yourself in a situation where you can pull someone else in to pass. Maybe your opposite is a good passer, or even one of your middles. In that case, you may find it better to use an outside leads approach.

I definitely recommend that you take some time to write out each of your rotations. Map out a primary reception pattern and also look at alternatives. If nothing else, it’s good to know what your options could be if you need to change things up. Make sure you know how the overlap rules work and how they can actually be used.

Coaching Log – February 12, 2018

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

As I noted in my last update, the head coach here at MSU resigned her position. While the process to decide on a new head coach is on-going, I am basically in charge of the program, with help from our graduate assistant.

Recruiting

We have continued to work on recruiting on two fronts. One is completing the 2018 class. Adding a setter to replace the one who decommitted is the top priority there, but we continue to look for a middle to add as well. We definitely need a setter as we currently only have one. We have three middle blockers (MB), so we could potentially get away with not adding there, but we’d very much like to have a fourth for depth and competition.

Of course, the second front is the 2019 class. We don’t actually anticipate a big need there. A right side hitter, who also has experience at MB, has already verbally committed. We will graduate an outside hitter (OH) and a libero next year. We’ll have three other defensive specialists remaining, so adding another isn’t a priority. We’ll definitely want to add another OH, though. We may want to add a setter, but if we have four MBs then we won’t look to add another in that position.

The first weekend of the month we attended a pair of large tournaments to evaluate prospects in both the 2018 and 2019 classes. The teams of three of our incoming freshmen where on-hand, though only one of those athletes was playing. One was out sick and another was being rested for injury reasons. The following Monday we had a 2018 MB on campus for a visit.

Training

While we have 11 players on the roster this semester, not all of them are active. The OH who injured her knee during season will remain in rehab mode throughout. Another OH has a back injury that has her inactive for a while. We’ve also had players out due to illness. Between those considerations and player class schedules, it’s been interesting to manage the two hours per week of court time we have available to us with each of them.

Until a new head coach is chosen, I feel like it’s probably best to leave any system-related training for later. In any case, we’ll have a whole bunch of new players joining the team in August. As a result, we’d have to redo that work then anyway. Instead, my focus is on individual technical improvements.

One big area of need for the group is setting with their hands. To work on that I had them play some out-of-system games where points could only be scored on kills from hand sets. Mainly, it was about developing the confidence to take balls overhand. Was it ugly? You bet! But it’s all about climbing mistake mountain.

Last Thursday we played a game I called 3-2-1. I think Mark Lebedew gave me the idea. It’s a normal game but with bonus point scoring. A team gets 3 points for winning a rally on a first contact, 2 if they use two touches, and one if they use all three allowed contacts. We decided blocks and aces were worth 2 points. The idea is to get them thinking outside the box and having more situational awareness, while also encouraging better defensive readiness and awareness.

Other stuff

We are likely changing equipment suppliers after being with Asics. This is a department level decision, not our own. We’ll need to replace one set of jerseys, for sure, and will have some other stuff to get for 2018. So we brought the team together and let them loose on the equipment catalog. ๐Ÿ™‚

Recruits don’t worry too much about coaches, apparently

Here’s something that might deflate the egos of some college coaches. ๐Ÿ™‚

We recently had a 2018 recruit on campus for a visit. This is actually a girl who we brought to campus in Spring 2017. We made her an offer then, but she was at the beginning of her process. As a result, she wasn’t ready to make a commitment then. We then kind of fell out of touch with her over the Summer. Approaching the first Juniors tournament of the year we were going to for recruiting, we looked to see if she had committed somewhere else, but didn’t see any indication she had. That being the case, I stopped by her court to watch her play. She did well. Better than what I remembered.

We were all set to reach out to her again, but she beat us to it. She texted the head coach to express her interest, and that led to her coming back to campus again. This was mainly about giving her mom a chance to have a look as she wasn’t on the trip the first time. It also, though, gave her a chance to meet all our new players. We only have three left from when she visited the first time.

Now, in the middle of all this the head coach was getting ready to leave following her resignation. She made her announcement to the team two days before the visit and spoke this this recruit that same night to let her know as well in case it mattered.

Nope! Didn’t matter at all.

We got the girl’s commitment the night after her visit.

Further, of the four girls who committed to us earlier, only one decided to rethink things. She did ask to be let out of her commitment, making it sound like she wanted to stay closer to home. At the same time, though, we continued to talk with 2018 prospects and getting them on campus.

Guess the head coach doesn’t matter. ๐Ÿ˜€

Honestly, I think this is the way it should be for at least the majority of recruits. It should be mainly about the school.

Coaching Log – February 1, 2018

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

The new semester is underway. Time to get back to work!

Recruiting

They don’t wait too long to get Juniors tournaments going, so we were off and running with recruiting before school even started. This is the time of year when we get seriously focused on the next recruiting class. In this case, that means 2019. We did, however, still have to look at 2018 middles to finish that class.

Our first event of the year was the Tour of Texas qualifier in San Antonio. Annoyingly, it was spread over I think four different sites for just the 17s age group alone. Saturday was all about looking at 17s. We had a number of 2019 prospects who have reached out to us to look through. While doing that, though, we also tagged a number of other potential recruit prospects we saw along the way. On Sunday I continued looking at 17s, but the 18s began playing that day, so I watched some uncommitted 2018 middles as well.

Following the Tour, a middle we actually brought to campus last Spring, and offered, reached out to us. We hadn’t heard from her since I believe July. I made it a point to watch her play in the Tour qualifier, as she still came up as uncommitted. She saw me, and ended up texting the head coach a couple days later. That turned into plans for a second visit (unofficial this time, as she’d already done her official) so she could meet new members of the team (8 since her visit) and show her mom around campus. She ended up committing to us that evening.

Academics

The Lone Star Conference does a Commissioner’s Honor Roll for each academic term. A student-athlete must have a semester total GPA of 3.3 or better to earn selection. For Fall 2017 we put 8 players on that list.

Overall, the team did pretty well last semester. The team had a collective GPA of 3.0. Unfortunately, a few individuals dragged the average down with failing grades. For one of them it’s going to cost her eligibility in the Spring. She didn’t pass enough credits, so she won’t be able to compete for us this term. She can still train with the team, but she can’t play in any Spring competition.

Scheduling

Now is the time of year Fall schedules are made. This year it’s been a bit trickier than usual. You see 2018 is a Festival year for NCAA Division II. That means they have all the sports for a given season do their championships at the same time, in the same location. Unfortunately, the other Fall sports finish earlier than volleyball. That means they cut a week off our season. A proposal was made, however, to make up for that cut by adding a week back at the beginning of the season. That was voted on and passed in mid-January. As a result, we’ll start our season August 24th rather than August 31st.

We committed to tournaments for our first two weekends. We’ll go to Tarleton again the first week, as we did in 2017. It’s an easy trip with some good competition. We played two ranked teams there this year and look forward to something similar for 2018. One of the top teams in the country is on the list of attendees.

The second weekend we’ll be going to Nebraska-Kearney. We played them at West Texas early in the 2017 season. They are traditionally quite a strong team – as in top 10 in the poll. The other teams in the tournament, however, were ranked below us this year. Two of them, though, will be regional competition.

There is also scheduling Spring competition. Because we can’t play any of our MBs due to their academic eligibility, we are keeping things limited. We will host a tournament in April, but that’s it. We did the same thing last year when we had only one MB available. We’ve had five area teams commit for the date.

Team Meeting

We held our first team get together of the term the afternoon of the first day of classes (Jan 16). That basically involved going over the the training schedule for the first part of the semester (up to Spring Break). We also had to discuss our community service hours, study hall, and other stuff like that.

Training

The team started strength and conditioning work with our Strength Coach the first week of school. The first day he started off by having them do some simple agility work in the gym, and then some foundational exercises in the weight room to start getting them back into the swing of things. That sort of work continued in the second week.

We held off on starting the volleyball until the second week to let them settle in with classes and such. At least some of them, though, did take part in an open gym session on Thursday of the first week. The combination of injuries and class schedules looks like it will force to into having two 2-hour full team sessions per week rather than the smaller group work we originally had in mind for this part of the year. Spring can be really tricky like that.

Volunteer work

All athletes at MSU are expected to do a certain amount of volunteer work each year. Even if there was no requirement, though, most of us likely would make it part of our program anyway. It’s a difficult thing to get in during the season in the Fall, for obvious reasons. The team did, though, work a fair one day for a couple hours.

This Spring we will once more be involved with the Cafe con Leche program. It’s one which aims to help mainly minority kids become the first in their family to go to college. We helped out with one of their tutoring sessions last year. We’re doing the same again this year on a monthly basis.

And the big news

When she returned from the semester break, the head coach announced her intention to resign. This was not a major surprise as it was totally based on family considerations. It was a question of when, not if it would happen. She informed the team in a meeting on the 23rd, with a press release going up on the website the next day. She also reached out to all the incoming players to let them know. Fortunately, there wasn’t any drama.

Well, at least we thought so. Then we heard on the 29th from the setter we signed that she’s decommitting. Ugh! Scramble time to find someone else after we’ve been telling kids we’re done in that position for 2018.

The outgoing head coach’s final thing with the team was on the 30th. She showed them a short video on the team concept and we played a series of team oriented non-volleyball games.

Communicating playing time prospects to non-starters

A question recently came up on the subject of talking with non-starters.

So many times when the discussion of playing time comes up, either the player or parent is asking what they need to improve on, or the coach uses improvement in particular skills as a prerequisite for more playing time. Now the paradox: As a coach, donโ€™t you expect improvement from Everyone on your roster? If everyone improves, including the non-starter, is your starting team going to change? (probably not!). So by tying more playing time to improvement, arenโ€™t you setting this player up for more disappointment?

This definitely represents an interesting conundrum for us coaches. In order for a non-starter to become a starter they need to get better. Either that or a starter needs to have a dip in form. You certainly hope and expect that the starters will continue to improve, though. If that’s the case, then the non-starter should never get into the starting lineup. So how do we handle this?

Control what we can control

First and foremost, it is important to get the non-starter focused on what they can control. They cannot control what others do. They can only control their own effort and attitude. It’s about putting in the work with intention. A potentially big part of this is making sure you give them at least as much attention as you give your starters. That way they don’t feel left behind or left out.

Different rates of improvement

A major consideration in this whole scenario is a kind of assumption that players improve at the same rate. This really isn’t the case, though. Player’s progress at different rates. That means non-starters can definitely overtake starters over time. This is especially true when you’ve got players at different points in their development. Younger players tend to make gains more quickly than older ones.

Don’t tie playing time to improvement

Here’s the mistake coaches can make. We obviously want to see our non-starters improve. Even if they never make the starting team, their better play in practice will at least create a higher level of play in that context (see A-team vs. B-team), challenging the other players more. We cannot, though, tie playing time to improvement – at least not in a nominal sense.

By that I mean we can’t tell players they just need to get better because the reality is that they need to be better than the starter(s) ahead of them. Thus, it’s a relative thing, not an absolute. You thus have to frame it more along the lines of, “You need to be better than (or at least as good as) Jane in …” That gives you room to base things on the relative levels of the player rather than absolute changes by the non-starter.

Note that all of this can tie in with your decisions on substitutions as well.

Where should you focus your coaching attention during matches?

It’s match time. As coach, what should you do with yourself? That’s what the following coach wants to know.

What have you found to be the most effective area to focus your attention during a match as a coach? I’ve found that it’s easy to get distracted watching the “game” like a spectator. I was just wondering what you smart people focus on or how you are practically spending your time (charting, calling plays, whatever).

For example, as a head coach, do you spend most of your time watching the other team’s defense so you can lead the offense? Or do you spend your time watching your team to see who is doing well or losing points at X, Y, or Z?

I think a lot of us, especially early in our careers, probably found ourselves watching the game like a spectator. As you get more experienced, though, your vision changes and evolves. You learn to take things in even while watching the game as a whole.

That said, there are a couple of ways to get more out of watching from the sidelines.

Focus on your priority

What is the most important information you can provide your team during the match? This should dictate where you focus your attention. Is your team still learning its defensive responsibilities? Then you should focus more on their movement and positioning and not focus much on the other team. Do you need to help your setter with their decision making or your hitters with finding ways to score? Then you likely need to focus more attention on how the opposition is setting up their block and defense.

You may even have situations where you need to focus on just one player. Maybe there is an injury question. Maybe you are worried about their mentality. This usually isn’t something you do for long periods, but it can be very important for the team’s performance overall.

This isn’t to say you can only watch one thing. I’m merely suggesting that you should give more of your attention to that area of the court which will give you the information you need to provide your players.

Taking stats

If you don’t have another source of statistics, then taking at least some of them during a match can be quite helpful. The trick is being able to do so while also giving enough attention to what’s happening on the court. I personally have always struggled when a head coach to also take stats – even end of rally type stuff. I always feel like I’m missing something when I have to turn my attention away from the court, however briefly. You may find it easier.

Regardless, you must decide what information would be helpful during the match and not worry about stuff you could later pull from the video. You also want to make taking those stats as simple as possible, and that you are able to reference and interpret them at a glance.

Delegating

If you are a head coach then maybe you can delegate part of what needs to be watched to someone else – assistant coach, parent, etc. Statistics especially can be delegated quite easily. You just have to provide very specific and clear instructions on what you want collected and in what format you want to see it. For example, if you have someone take serve reception stats, make sure they know exactly how to score each pass.

At some levels assistant coaches are responsible for certain parts of the game. One may watch the block and defense. One may focus on the offense. This allows the head coach to focus wherever they think is most important at the time, while still collecting other information.

Avoiding Overload

One thing to make sure to avoid is overloading your players. This can happen when multiple people are telling them different things. This can also happen when you give the team too many different things to focus on. Players – individually and collectively – can only keep so many things in mind. And the less experienced the players the lower than threshold is. Keep this in mind both as you prioritize your focus, or what you delegate, and in information transmission.

Overload applies to you as coach also. If you try to look at too many things you’ll probably not actually take in anything meaningful. In that case you’re back to being a spectator.

Coaching Log – January 3, 2018

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

It’s been nearly a month since my last update. Obviously, we haven’t been in the gym, but that doesn’t mean things haven’t been happening.

Roster changes

Recall that we did a tryout last month for prospective transfer middles and liberos. As it turns out, one of the liberos was someone already committed to transfer to MSU – as a freshman. Literally that same day she met with a counselor about her schedule for the Spring semester. She’d played a fair amount as a defensive specialist for her prior school – a Division II program in our Region – but opted to transfer for non-volleyball reasons. She was club teammates with of one of our current freshmen, and did well at the tryout, so we felt she’d make a good addition to the team. Even better, she can be with us through second semester to get integrated with the team.

Recruiting

We’ve still been looking to add one or two additional players to our 2018 freshman class. A middle we offered, and thought we’d get, opted for another school. So it was back to work trying to find someone in that position. We plotted out the tournaments we’ll look to attend during this year’s juniors seasons to come and submitted the requisite travel authorization requests.

The first of those tournaments is actually this weekend. Nothing like jumping right into it in the new year!

Other stuff

There’s never a time when nothing’s going on, especially while school is still in session. The week after our tryout was the last week of classes – and the last time we were all going to be in the office at the same time for a while. We started putting together the Spring semester schedule, continued to do academic monitoring, and dealt with gear. Of course there was plenty of recruiting stuff to do, particularly with the juniors season starting to get rolling.

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