Archive for 2014-15 Exeter University

Coaching Log – Nov 9 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

Yesterday we had a match against the team which looked from the results so far to be both a beatable opponent and one we needed a win against if we were going to try to finish above the relegation zone. We didn’t get the win, instead losing in disappointing fashion. It occurred to me at some point during the third set that the team basically looked like they’d hardly played with each other together at all. Players were colliding going for some balls, and looking at each other on others. Granted, this is only the second match of the season where we were able to field all the top players together in their strongest positions at the same time, but they’ve been training together for 6 weeks now, so it’s a bit concerning.

That isn’t the only issue, of course. We’re just not playing intelligently enough – missing bad serves, over-reacting way too much, not making adjustments. We’ve got a very inexperienced setter. The second MB position isn’t very strong and overall blocking needs to be much better. Unfortunately, missing players and schedule conflicts haven’t given me much opportunity to try some different things with the line-up. I have some ideas for things I’d like to try. We’ll see if I can actually get them in, though.

One the plus side, the second team absolutely crushed their Division 2 competition in a pair of matches. I don’t think they conceded more than 15 points in any set, and held a team to just 6 at one point. This is much better than I expected given the lack of a libero (we could only field 6 players) and the relatively poor defending of the to MBs. I wasn’t on-hand as they were playing away, so I await the report. The group was quite strong in attack the other day in training, which may have been a factor. A 25-6 set, though, suggests serving the other team off the court.

Coaching Log – Nov 6 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

The first and second teams both play league matches on Sunday – in different locations, so it will be a split squad situation. The second team players who will be available to play were at this training session, but only 3-4 of the first team players were on-hand for various reasons. A bit annoying in terms of trying to prepare for an important match.

After the dynamic warm-up, I had the players do some blocking footwork. This was less about the need to work on the mechanics, which have improved considerably, and more about keeping blocking front of mind – particularly for the first team which has struggled in that area.

I moved them from there to some partner pepper to continue the warm-up, then did some serving. I followed that up with some mini volleyball – 2 v 2 on half court with a shared setter as a preparation for 6 v 6 play. I set the teams to combine first teamers with second teamers for balanced play and kind of a big sister learning situation.

The rest of training was dedicated to the 22 v 22 game with the full second team playing against the first teamers. Despite playing short-handed (4 players), the first team was the stronger. The second team did get in some good hits and generally blocked well, but the defense needs significant improvement. As much as not having the starting 6 there to play together was annoying, it did give me a chance to focus more on the second team.

Coaching Log – Nov 5 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

We played the team that based on last year’s has to be considered one of the favorites to win our league this year. Results in matches so far this season tend to support that, though perhaps one other team will give them a serious run for the title. That said, this is not a team that we have any real reason to fear. They have an advantage in size at the net, to be sure, but we can play with them.

The result was basically as expected in terms of the outcome, but there were a number of positive takeaways. My movement of last year’s OPP to OH definitely gave a real boost to the offense, though we are weaker in blocking because of it. Generally speaking, I was pretty pleased with the attack. The new setter still has a long way to go, but she’s making progress. Defensively we were solid.

That said, blocking has to get better. There were some bad missed serves – including on set point against for both Set 2 and Set 3. The first set was very nervous, but it got better. There’s still some panicky type play going on, and there were a few bad decisions.

Considering this was the first time on the season thus far that we had all of the starting players available to play, not a bad performance all in all. Important match for league standing on Sunday. Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll be missing a key player.

Coaching Log – Nov 3 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

Absence, injury, and illness limited the numbers at training a bit. Not great timing given the match coming on Wednesday against one of the favorites to win the league since all of the missing players are in the mix for the first team. As a result, I focused on a bit of skill work for the first part of training. I had them do serving & passing 3s/4s as a starting point. Target serving followed. Then, because many of the players have struggled with good technique for down balls and back row type attacks (wrong foot forward mainly), I had them do a kind of butterfly which forced them all to set and hit – initially standing, then focusing on the last two approach steps. I finished up with game play in the form of the Belly Drill and narrow court winners 3s.

I wasn’t overly pleased with the serving and passing reps, particularly on the passing side. I did see a couple of players showing improvements, but their wasn’t enough calling of the ball and some players weren’t as focused on working on their technique as they needed to be. They did relatively well in the hitting drill, but of course once things shifted to game play it all went out the window for some of them, so more work is required in a game-like environment.

The intensity during the game play was good, and the overall level among the players is coming up as the second teamers are clearly making gains. The fact that they’ve been able to play some matches (they had two regional club league ones on Sunday) is definitely helping. The concern, though, is the first team not making as much progress as they really need to be making.


Coaching Log – Oct 30 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

The team played an away match on Wednesday against what my sources have suggested is one of the top teams in the league this year. I did not go on the trip (more on that later). The team was also missing it’s captain and another prospective starter, and one of its other key players only arrived in time to play the third set due to travel troubles returning from a wedding abroad. That mean two B team players were starters. Not surprising, the result wasn’t good. Aside from being over-matched, the feedback I got was that the team played poorly and didn’t handle the adversity well (lack of talking, heads down, etc.).

It was suggested to me that only 7 players would be attending training for various reasons, so I agreed to allow one of the club captains run the training session based on some stuff they had done in the guys training that morning. He’s keen to coach, so I figured it would be an opportunity for me to provide him some guidance in a situation where there wasn’t going to be a lot of opportunity to work on a huge amount of stuff. As it turns out, there were 9 players.

Said captain ran some drills at the start which focused on low movement – catching dropped balls, chasing down balls rolled along the ground. They were good in terms of intensity and movement, but I would have preferred something that actually involved playing the ball.

He also ran a couple of defensively oriented drills with the coach playing balls to either 1 or 2 players (basically a coach-on-2 in the second case). The 1-player drill was badly conceived on a couple of levels (lots of players standing around, coach getting more reps than anyone, players rewarded for essentially bad digs), but the 2-player one had some good features.

He also did what he called “popcorn” that involved players on the ground with him behind them bouncing the ball off the ground. They had to get up, find the ball, and play out a rally with the team on the other side (losers get the next bounced ball). I’m not a big fan of the blind play aspect. Not very realistic. I’d have just gone with the Belly Drill as something conceptually similar.

The rest of training featured a serving & passing drill and a 4s variation of winners.

Intensity-wise, it was a good session. I just would have adjusted some things to give the players more ball contacts, which is the feedback I gave the captain.

Getting back to my not going to the Wednesday away match, I’ve had to take a hard look at my coaching commitments. Completing my PhD dissertation in my defined time frame (submission in December/January) is my first priority and the time left to get that done is rapidly shrinking. It may require me to miss more matches and/or reduce the number of trainings I attend. On the plus side, we only have home matches over the next couple of weeks.

Coaching Log – Oct 27 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

A combination of mid-term break and some other factors had the player count down to 10, with one of last year’s players visiting as a guest to make 11 in total. There’s an away match on Wednesday, which means I would have normally tried to do some 6 v 6 in preparation, but that wasn’t really an option for this training given who was on-hand. Instead, I went with a more high-contact volume session.

I had them go right into over the net pepper in two groups of four and one of three, periodically mixing players around. From there I shifted to serving, with some target work. After that, it was 2-sided serving and passing with a target of 30 good passes, -1 for overpasses. From them it was on to the Belly Drill, and finished with Winners 3s.

I was quite pleased with the power I saw from the servers. They definitely challenged the passers. The overall tempo of the serving & passing drill wasn’t great, but the players definitely got into the Belly Drill and enjoyed it.

Wednesday’s away match will be a tough one based on the scouting report I heard from another coach. It won’t be helped by the team missing two prospective starters and being left without a clear libero choice.

I have decided not to make the trip (which will involve about 6 hours of driving) as I’m feeling considerable pressure to focus on my PhD work right now. There’s a bit of guilt over that, but the team played their weekend regional club league matches without me and did well by all accounts. They got their first match win of the season despite not having any of the returning players from last year’s team.

Coaching Log – Oct 22 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

This was a two hour session. I flipped men’s and women’s trainings so I could be sure to get all of the key starting players together as planned absences will otherwise prevent that before next Wednesday’s match. My main focus was 2-fold. First, a high training intensity for the first team players. Second, a look at the starting line-up I’m thinking to use next week.

After dynamic warm-up I split the players into 4 groups. Two of them were all first team players while two were either all second team or a mix (it was a 7/5 split). I had three groups doing 3-person over the net pepper, while I hit balls at the 4th group to do some individual digging. I only hit at the two all-first-team groups, though, both for the purposes of time and to provide a higher intensity for those players.

From there we progressed into some serving, followed by a serving & passing drill. I had the first team players working amongst themselves with a fixed setter setting to me as target. Similarly, the second team worked amongst themselves with an injured player as fixed target. I just had each server do 10 good serves, then swap positions with one of the passers.

From there I moved them on to some small-sided action. The first team played 3 v 3 with a fixed setter, initially playing two games to 7, then one more wash game along the lines of 22 v 22 where the team that won the first rally received a second ball from me and had to win that rally as well to earn the point. The second team did a 5-person pepper similar in nature to the 3-person they’d done earlier (player making the 3rd contact went under to become the next setter). Both of these were done in a half court.

The last segment was a 6 v 6. I served to the first team. If the second team won the rally, they got a free ball from the injured player. If the first team won I would attack a ball at them (down ball from somewhere in the court). It ended up having a something of a second chance aspect to it as well. The one issue I had with this game/drill was it didn’t allow me to use a libero on the starting side. I had to use a couple of the first teamers (those on the fringes of starting) on the B side because of missing/injured players. That caused some defensive issues, both actually made for a more potent attack going at the starters.

Generally, I was pleased with the overall intensity and caliber of play.

Coaching Log – Oct 20 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

On Friday I had a meeting with the club and team captains for both the men’s and women’s squads I coach. The subject was the disparity in training intensity between prospective first team players and the rest. Basically, we have a situation in both teams where the first teamers were being pulled down by the lack of technical ability and focus among the second teamers, particularly when it comes to anything game-play oriented. Too many balls dropping is one obvious symptom, but there are numerous others which aren’t so easy to spot.

For example, the men’s captain described their match last week as featuring sets where they just could not maintain focus. I’ve seen the same with the women. Training at a persistently higher intensity, which forces a player to stay full switched on better and longer, tends to address this sort of problem. Rallies ending prematurely because an inexperienced player was out of position or not ready for the ball tends to have the opposite effect.

Another example coming from both teams was struggles in defense. For the men the problem seemed to be one of being able to control hard-hit balls resulting in many overpasses (at least as reported). For the women it was a bit broader in terms of blocking and positioning. In both cases, more exposure to better hitting would help considerably.

The bottom line is the better players need to be training with and against each other much more in game-play situations. At the same time, the less skilled players need much more in the way of focused technical work. The meeting was about working to correct that situation.

For the women’s team the on-going need to identify a primary setter has steered me away from some of the more focused skill development oriented activities. I’ve wanted to see the prospective candidates in game-like situations to be able to evaluate their movement, set placement, and decision-making. Unfortunately, that has to continue a bit longer still. I have one player who could set, play OPP, or be libero.

The decision on what to do with this one player – who I want on the court all the time in one fashion or another – actually has a significant impact on what I do with the rest of the line-up. If she plays OPP, for example, I can move my current OPP to O1. The team needs more punch at OH, which she is capable of providing. If we cannot get a consistent RS set – which we haven’t thus far – she is wasted over there (though she is a sizable block and good second ball setter).

We have our next BUCS match a week from Wednesday and after this Wednesday I won’t have all of the prospective starters for that match together in the same training session. If I want to training them as a group at least once, I basically need at least a short-term decision on this one player quickly.

Because we have a bit of time before that next match – and some clear developmental needs – I decided to spend a lot of time on technical work. I started them off with blocking footwork, moved on to Short-Long, then rolled that into a hit-and-dig-to-self partner drill. From there I rolled them into a serving & passing drill featuring a setter and an OH target that I had hit the ball. It ended up working out that many of the first team players were in the first group, and things looked quite solid. When players switched around, predictably things took a downward turn.

For the remainder of the session I split the court and had the six top players doing a 3 v 3 version of 22 v 22, while I had the other seven doing Player Winners. I spoke with the latter players both themselves and as part of the end-of-training team talk in terms of their needs and how we’re looking to get them more dedicated training opportunities.

Coaching Log – Oct 16 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

Wednesday was our first BUCS match of the year. To say things didn’t go optimally would be an understatement. We had to drive over 4 hours (players driving) leaving before 7am to get to the match, closer to 5 hours by the time we got parked and across campus, changed and into the gym. Then we found out we had basically zero time to warm up before the official pre-match routine started because our Athletic Union failed to inform us that said warm-up was set to begin about 25 minutes before the team was changed. Needless to say, we weren’t anywhere close to mentally or physically prepared to play the match.

The opposition was solid, but by no means overpowering. They reminded us a lot of the third place teams from our league last year in terms of style of play. I have no doubt we have the players capable of beating them. Not, however, if we play the way we did on Wednesday. Way too many mistakes driven by tentative, fearful play. And our blocking and defense weren’t nearly good enough (the latter definitely a function of the former). Lots of work needs doing – technically, tactically, and mentally.

It was an early training session on Thursday as we swapped spots with the men’s team since they played a late-day match Wednesday. Not surprisingly, there were some sluggish minds and bodies. We only had six balls, which put some serious limits on what I could do with them. It ended up being a session developed dynamically.

I had them start with rotating pepper after the dynamic warm-up, then moved to a variation of the hard drill. My decision to do that latter was to get the players doing more thinking on the court. After that, I did half court (narrow) winners 4s with fixed setters.

It was not a great session. Too little focus. Too little commitment. Balls dropped. Players made numerous bad decisions. I was sharper with them because of it than I’ve been so far this season. I actually ended training early after yet another ball hit the floor with two players standing there looking at each other (which got the team captain shouting at them).

I told them at the end of training that certain players need to get more focused (no names) and were at risk of being excluded from training because they were negatively influencing the ability of other players to practice at the necessary intensity. They were warned that Monday’s session had better be MUCH better in terms of intensity and focus.

On the plus side, after telling the two setters I would make them do a push-up (just 1) if I caught them leaving target early (which they both had been horribly guilty of up to that point in the session) they were much more disciplined about that.

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