Archive for Volleyball Coaching

About hitter training and the myth of the wrist snap

There’s a post worth reading on the USA Volleyball blog (hat tip to Coach Rey). It looks at hitter training and focuses on getting players to execute skills in game-like fashion as often as possible. In other words, getting away from “block” training which breaks the skill down and works on its components individually. That’s a major focus of modern training for coaching volleyball. There are some worthwhile things to think about toward that aim in this piece.

The “myth” of wrist snap

At the end of the blog post is an interesting exchange about the mechanics of hitting a ball with topspin, whether that’s a spike or a topspin serve. You need to read that section from the bottom up to properly follow the flow, as the sequence of the discussion is in reverse chronological order (like an email exchange).

The major take-away from that topspin conversation is that wrist snap has nothing to do with it. Your hand is not in contact with the ball long enough for it to wrap over the top the way it looks to do when you execute in slow motion.

So do we stop coaching wrist snap? Or does it actually serve a purpose?

My August Volleyball Coaching Developmental Traveling Plans

Back in Summer 2013 I planned a trip back to the States for August. In part it was my plan to get in some academic meetings in support of my PhD work. Mainly, though, I was looking at it as an opportunity to reconnect with the US collegiate volleyball game. I was away from it since the end of 2006. I watched a number of matches on television in the interim. Aside from attending a UCLA vs. Standford match in September 2011 and a Harvard vs. Princeton match later that season, however, I was out of the gym entirely for nearly 6 years.

A big reason for that was the feeling I needed to concentrate on my new corporate job for a while. My concern was I wouldn’t be able to resist the coaching urge if I didn’t stay away. Even doing so, there were times when I felt the pull to get back into it. Given how strongly everything came back when I started coaching the Exeter teams in 2012-13, I think I was correct in my assessment.

Now, with the coaching bug fully infecting me, I looked at this trip back to the States as an opportunity for some professional development and networking. The plan was to spend a couple of days with a few different teams as they go through their pre/early-season training.

Two significant programs on the plan
The two schools I knew from the start I’d go were the University of Southern California (USC) and Long Beach State (properly known as California State University at Long Beach – CSULB). You may know Long Beach State from one of it’s most prominent alumnae, Misty May-Treanor. She was a setter in her collegiate playing days.

The coaches of those two programs are among the legends in the game. Mick Haley at USC rose to prominence when is University of Texas team became the first non-West Coast squad to win a volleyball NCAA Division I championship. He won two titles at Texas, and then two more at USC. He had with four years as coach of the USA women’s national team (up to the 2000 Olympics) in between. Before Texas he was a very successful Junior College coach as well.

Brian Gimmillaro at Long Beach has 3 national championships to his credit as well, and has long been one of the leading lights in coaching education. He readily shared his methods through videos and seminars for many years. His 1998 team became the first ever to go undefeated for a whole season (36-0).

I also arranged to meet up with Stein Metzger. That year he coached the UCLA Sand Volleyball team and was an assistant for the women’s indoor team. Stein played on the pro beach tour and has coached a number of other pros (including Devon’s own Denise Austin).

Others to be determined
A few other schools got added to the list later, but that was all still in the works.I provided updates when things got finalized. I also did post updates from the road to share what i saw and heard.

Needless to say, I was really looking forward to this trip – and not just for the SoCal sunshine! 🙂

Volleyball Games: Using Bonus Points Effectively

There is a major focus in volleyball coaching circles these days on making training as game-oriented as possible. That means moving away from rote mechanical – block – training. Incorporating the types of visuals, movement patterns, and situations one will see in a match is better. Obviously, nothing is going to be more game-like than actually playing. Let’s face it, though. The scrimmages and other volleyball games we do in training oftentimes drift away from the developmental focus we would like to have for that particular session.

There is a way to have your players concentrating on those key things, however.

By introducing bonus points, you can get your players focused on executing whatever skills or plays you want. For example, a bonus point for a 3-pass (see Scoring Serving and Passing Effectiveness) will have them concentrate more on passing. A bonus point for a stuff block will get your blockers more intent on their task. You can have even bonus points for more complex sequences. Think of things like quick attacks or combination plays, or for scoring on the first ball in serve receive.

You can also have point penalties for undesirable plays. For example, say you want to curb the amount of 1-arm digging or passing that’s happening. Assess a point deduction each time it happens. Maybe your team isn’t calling the ball enough. If so, you can subtract points for failure to do so. If you want free balls sent only to zone 1 you can asses a deduction when it doesn’t happen.

Here are some things to think about in terms of employing bonus/penalty points in your games:

  • You can vary the points based on the amount of focus you want to give something – more points for key areas of focus, fewer for lesser ones.
  • You can have multiple bonus/penalty items in your game, but don’t get carried away. The players can only focus on a couple of things at a time effectively, and you can only track of so many different things, so keep it relatively narrowly defined.
  • Be careful of unintended consequences. You don’t want you players forcing things to try to earn bonus points. Make sure you structure your point system to avoid that.

You’ll know you have your player’s attention on where you want their focus when they start yelling out bonus point scoring in the middle of plays. That’s probably not the best situation in terms of their game concentration, but at least you know you have them thinking about the right things. 🙂

Volleyball Set Diagram

Below is a volleyball set diagram. It outlines the different sets we used when I coached collegiately at Brown, and how we defined them. This is based on a system popularized by the USA men back in the 1980s. They divided the net into 9 zones of 1 meter each. On top of that they added set heights ranging from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest (fastest). The zones and heights were then combined to provide a two-digit specifier for each set. Thus, a standard high set to the outside (left) hitter is a 14 – zone 1, height 4. A middle quick is a 51 – zone 5, height 1.

Now, for practical purposes most teams do not use the two digit calls in play. They tend to shorten them up to call sets quickly in a fast-paced play. In our case, we used letters to call the 4 different types of quick sets we used. You can see below how we did this, as well as the back row zones system we used based on colors – white, brown, and red from left to right as you’re facing the net.

Sample volleyball set diagram

volleyball set diagram

This, of course, is just one system and one volleyball set diagram. There are loads of variations. In my coaching at Svedala in Sweden, for example, the “rip” was equivalent to the 31 from the chart above. A 3 was the 32 set, which is pretty common usage. Our A was a 71 (back quick). We called the “hut” a “go” (which is what a lot of teams call the fast outside set these days). In contrast, at Midwestern State the “rip” was a back row attack in Zone 1. Then there’s the zero tempo concept some people now use.

I have always found, though, that the underlying 2-digit base structure makes it very easy to work out different types of naming approaches or hand signals.

Volleyball Conditioning – A Sample Program

Here is a sample volleyball off-season/summer workout program. It comes from my days coaching at Brown and was given to our players in 2004 for their use during the summer months. To provide a sense of timing, we began our pre-season about August 25th each year, so the program is timed out with that in mind. Obviously, this is just one example of a workout plan, and perhaps not the best for any given team or player. It does provide something from which to work, though.

This vballsummer spreadsheet features two tabs. One is weight training. The other is conditioning. The latter actually features a calendar layout with what to do each day of each week, including the weights program. The other tab provides the specifics of each week’s weight training work.

The BIKE_WORKOUTS spreadsheet is exactly what is sounds like. It includes eight workouts ranging from 15-25 minutes with specifics for how each section of the ride should be done.

The General_Conditioning document describes all the running, agility, and other types of exercises which are indicated in the vballsummer spreadsheet.

Here’s the introductory letter our strength coach at the time included with the packet. It provides a bit of advice on implementing the program.


SUMMER WEIGHT TRAINING

The attached spreadsheets outline your summer lifting schedule. The weight training is divided into 3 x 4-week training blocks. The basic design of the program is a 3-week build-up followed by 1 week reduced load and/or active rest. As a general rule, when the repetitions decrease, the loads lifted should increase for your core exercises, however, you should pay close attention to the assigned percentages as well.

The percentages given for each session are for your major exercises only and are a percentage of your max. If you don’t know your max for a specific exercise, refer to the Nebraska Scale in your manual. This scale allows you to estimate your max by doing a heavy set of 2-3 repetitions. Choose a weight heavy enough that you can only get 2-3 good reps, then refer to the scale to estimate your 1 rep max. Use the number given on the scale to calculate your percentages for the summer program.

Please remember; as the program progresses, your strength will improve. If possible, you should re-test your estimated max halfway through the program and recalculate the weight. If the percentage for the session is 90-95% and your sets are easy, you should add weight and re-test your max.

If you have any questions about the program or cannot remember a specific exercise, ask a trainer at the gym where you workout. If you are uncomfortable performing a specific exercise and cannot get proper instruction, please try and substitute another exercise that targets the same muscle group.

There is a training calendar provided with an example of the optimal training split for your summer program. However, in the instance that you want to train on weekends, it is acceptable to spread the workouts over 7 days instead of just 5. Never lift weights more than 2 consecutive days without a day off in between. It’s OK if your training split is different from the calendar provided you rest properly and get all the sessions completed within the week.

SUMMER CONDITIONING

The training calendar also includes options for summer conditioning. There are 4 conditioning sessions listed along with your weight training. The basis of most of your summer conditioning is interval training. You can follow these workouts precisely, or use them as guidelines for training. If you have more than 2 club sessions each week in addition to this program, substitute the 3rd session for one of your conditioning workouts.

Descriptions of the summer conditioning sessions are provided in the summer manual along with several other options. Bike workouts, volleyball (club) workouts and spinning classes can be substituted for conditioning sessions as long as you are working with the principles of interval training in mind. However, these workouts were designed specifically for your summer training and should be followed as closely as possible.

If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me by email at anytime. GOOD LUCK AND TRAIN HARD!

Problem Solving: Setting out of the middle

The first volleyball team I ever coached by myself was the Southeast Boys Scholastic team in the Massachusetts Bay State Games. You can think of the Games as an annual mini Olympic type of competition. The six regions of the state compete against each other in a wide array of sports. In volleyball it means running team tryouts, having weekly training sessions for a month or so, then competing in the 3-day tournament during the month of July.

I’d never even seen Bay State Games competition, so I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into from that perspective. I’d had enough exposure to high school boys volleyball to at least have a general idea of what to expect. I didn’t, however, know the specific level of play there would be among presumably the better players in the state. I did know that I had some talent on my team, though.

Then I heard my setter sprained his ankle the week before the tournament.

Forced to Re-Think the Setting Position

I had just one pure setter, so this forced me to have to rethink my whole line-up plan. Naturally, the big decision was who would take that role. I had two candidates. One was a kid named Josh who set and hit outside in a 6-2 system for his high school. The other was Greg, who was primarily a middle, but also set.

I only had two proper middles, but in the end I decided to have Greg set rather than Josh. Why? Because Josh was a real stud player who could potentially get two touches on the ball each time it was on our side of the net. If he set he’d only get one touch.

Of course, using Greg as setter in a 5-1 offense left me with only one viable middle. As a result, I had to rethink how to set my line-up. I decided to have him set out of the middle when he was front row. That way he could still perform the middle blocker function. While in the back row he played normal setter defense (right back), while my right side players played middle back defense.

Believe it or not, we won the gold medal with this line-up. Just goes to show, you can win with non-standard line-ups. This is why it’s so important for coaches to have a firm understanding of the different types of systems teams can play (see a book like Volleyball Systems & Strategies). It helps adapt to situations and be able to maximize the talents of the team.

 

Volleyball Coaching Concept: Wave drills & games

Wave drills in volleyball are quite useful when you work with larger groups of players. They’re also good in high intensity drills. They can help avoid excess fatigue.

Basically, wave drills involve grouping players. You then rotate them through positions in a game or drill together. Doing so can effectively minimize down time in the form of players sitting out. You can also use them to move players into a less demanding role after a high intensity sequence. For example, MBs shift from fast-paced front row play to serving or defense.

A game like Winners 3s is a simple version of a wave structure. At the end of each point, one group of players comes off while another group comes on. A third group may also shift from the challenge side of the court to the winners’ side.

Another variation on this is breaking the team in to cohorts of three. They then play a 6 v 6 game during which those cohorts are rotated through front and back court positions. For example, a new wave comes on in the back court position on one side after each rally ends. That then cascades the waves through. It pushes the back court cohort on the other side of the net off as the front court group moves into their place. This allows you to have players on for 4 straight rotations. They are only off a minimal amount of time (1 rotation if you have 5 groups, 2 rotations if you have 6, etc.).

You can also wave on errors. Say you have 18 players. You split them into six groups of three. Three teams are assigned to each side of the court. Two teams are on and one is off waiting. The teams play through a rally. One of the cohorts on the losing side is replaced by the cohort waiting on the sideline based on some rule, like which group was at fault for the point lost.

I’m sure you can think of numerous other waves ideas. In fact, you probably use them in an ad hoc way right now. When you flip front and back row during a drill or game (like in Bingo-Bango-Bongo after a big point), that’s a form of a wave. The advantage of formal the wave rotations, however, is players are responsible for automatic waving. That means you don’t have to stop things to do it. This saves time and keeps the training intensity up.

Save time by naming your volleyball drills

You will notice that the volleyball drills and games I post here to share with you have names. You may or may not like them and think you can come up with better ones. If so, go for it. They are being shared so you can incorporate them into your training if you find them useful. I fully expect in doing so that you’ll make any adaptations you deem necessary.

Getting back to the point, though, there is a very specific reason for my assigning names to drills and games. It’s one which I encourage you to emulate if you aren’t already do it.

By naming each drill and using that name with your players you’ll make your training sessions go much more smoothly. Nothing grinds a well-tempoed practice to a halt faster than having to take several minutes to explain what you want for the next drill. Obviously, that can’t be avoided when introducing a new drill (which is why the start of the session is often the best time to do it). For those you use fairly regularly, though, having a name means the players know exactly what you want and can get on with things. There may be those who through either being new or being dense don’t know what’s going on, of course. The rest of the squad will get them sorted out so you can focus on what’s happening, though.

Now this doesn’t mean you can’t make modifications to adapt the drill to concentrate on your priorities for that session. As long as they don’t change the basic functioning of the drill, you do what you like. For example, you could say something like:

“We’re going to do The Belly Drill now. Since I want to focus on quick attacks today, though, we’re going to add a scoring element. A team will get 1 point for a kill from a quick attack. We’ll keep going until one team gets to 5 points.”

In this case I’m not doing anything in terms of altering the primary way The Belly Drill functions. All I’ve done is created a modification to focus on something I want the team working on that day. The players should have no problem understanding what the drill’s about because it will function the same as always, but now as a goal.

If, however, the modification you are thinking to make to a drill will alter the basic structure of that drill, then I’d argue that you’re now talking about something different. In that case you should give it a name of it’s own. You could perhaps use the first drill’s name as a reference point when describing it to the players, but you don’t want to get into a situation where every time you use it you’re saying something like “We’re going to use that modification of Drill Z that we did that one time before where the passers go there instead of here, and the hitters are on the other side of the net, ….” Just give it a new name. It’ll make everyone’s life easier.

There aren’t many of us volleyball coaches who have all the time in the world to run our trainings, so we need to use them as efficiently as possible and waste as little time as we can. Naming drills is one way to help spend more time on action and less on talking.

And definitely feel free to change the name of drills you find here on this site, in books, etc. You want them to be memorable for the players, so maybe involve the players in naming them.

Calling the ball

I’m hoping this post generates a bit of conversation. I’m very curious to hear what people have to say on the subject.

The widely accepted philosophy seems to be that we want someone making a play on the ball call it. They should say something along the lines of “Mine” or “Got”. And if there may be another player coming for the ball as well then they should keep calling until they either make the play or have someone call more forcefully and/or beat them to the spot.

Not all hold this view, I should note. For example, Mark Lebedew is not a proponent of players calling the ball. But that is a discussion for another time, which I address here.

Assuming you want players to call the ball, I’d like to hear your view on the following. The area of debate among volleyball coaches seems to be what the other players should or should not say when someone else is taking the ball.

My personal philosophy is that if you are not taking the ball you simply open up to the one who is. You are thus ready to cover them in case of a shanked pass. You can also help them with a line call where appropriate. What I don’t want to hear is “You” or “Yours”.

Why do I not like “Yours”?

For two reasons.

The first is that very often players go off sound rather than words, at least initially. By that I mean while passing you lock in on the ball. You’re not so focused on what’s happening around you. As a result, when someone says “You” the word may not register, though, the sound will. If the serve is such that you anticipate a call from your partner and you hear a noise from them, it may cause a hesitation. This is exacerbated when the player is already somewhat tentative.

The second reason is one of initiative. I want the calling to be a proactive thing which is part of starting the act of playing the ball, not a passive one of letting someone else do so. Also, if the other player isn’t already moving for the ball and you call “Yours”, it’s probably too late.

Of course much of the issue with ball calling can be sorted out by simply establishing the rules as to who has responsibility for the seam. This is Mark’s point.

By the way, I always like to hear players call the ball three times with increasing volume and conviction – “mine, Mine, MINE!”, “out, Out, OUT!”. This way no one is going to miss the call and in the case when a player is calling the ball for themselves is reinforces to them that they are taking it in their own psyche. Much better than a little “got” peep we often hear.

So what’s your philosophy? Leave a comment below and let’s talk about it.

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