Archive for 2014-15 Exeter University

Coaching Log – Oct 13 2014

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

Sunday’s South West league match (a 3-1 defeat) finally saw the A team – or a reasonable semblance thereof – face some competition, in particular opposition that was able to produce some decent hitting. There were a number of takeaways. First, serving and passing were generally quite solid. We had better than twice as many aces as errors and didn’t make any poorly timed errors. There were a couple of little communication issues on serve reception, but for the most part we put up very settable balls all match long.

Predictably, setting was a problem. I used both of the prospective starters for Wednesday’s first BUCS match in alternating sets to give each a fair shot at making her case. In the end, however, there wasn’t a great deal between them. There was a notable difference in set selection, as one setter included more right side sets while the other went middle more – or at least to one of the MBs more. The broader difference in the setters was in the aggressiveness of the swings the hitters were able to get. One setter saw kills at 28% while the other was at 23%. If I exclude an OH sub I used for just the third set who hit well negative, the first setter would have had kills at around 30%. Granted, she also saw a higher error %, but to me that’s only to be expected. I actively encouraged the hitters to be aggressive when they got a good set and they largely were doing that.

A bigger concern, however, was the defense. Positioning was poor. Anticipation was lacking. Commitment was insufficient. It’s a serious developmental need. There’s not a lot I can do about the setting at the moment, but I can increase the defensive focus.

Unfortunately, setting the net up took longer than it should have, so by the time they were warmed-up and ready to go, and we’d talked a little about Sunday’s match, I only had about an hour worth of training time. After having them do a bit of serving, I had them hit through 4, which allowed me to focus on the setters, both to evaluate for Wednesday and to work on technical corrections.

After the hitting I had them play Baseball for the remainder of the session. I ran the prospective starters for Wednesday through the A side. That meant using both setters, as well as working in the OH and MB who weren’t available on Sunday. I had the non-A side setter running the offense on the B side along with Sunday’s starting O2. The third setter in the mix, who can’t play Wednesday and who played libero on Sunday, I had as libero for the B side. Since we were 14, I had the back row MB on the B side serve for that side and the remaining B-team player serving from the other side. It ended up being fairly competitive. Having a strong libero on the B side definitely helped.

As an additional element, I pulled out my whistle. I don’t normally use it in training, but I do sometimes bring it into play when doing 6 v 6 to get the players focused. On this occasion I whistled any time I saw players not covering properly, not in good defensive readiness, etc. If I whistle them for some failure in that regard they lose the rally. This is something I did at times last year. I find that it helps get the players locked in to their responsibilities.

One of the things which became clear in yesterday’s play – carrying over to a degree from Sunday as well – is that the team is noticeably better on defense when that 3rd setter who played libero is on the court. The question is how best to utilize her. Libero is potentially a waste as I will only sub out one of the MBs, though I could potentially have her do two rotations in on the OPP as well. If I don’t end up using her as setter (and part of me feels like we’d be better with her passing and playing defense), then I am considering the prospect of having her play OPP and moving my current OPP over to OH in the O1 position. We lose size in the block doing that, and downgrade a bit on RS hitting, but defense in 1 would be stronger and we’d have a more potent OH attack.

For Wednesday, though, I need to settle on a starting setter, O2, and M2. For the most part I think I know who that will be.

Coaching Log – Oct 9 2014

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

Back to the big gym. This being the 2 week mark from the time a player told us she’d come out for the team in two weeks, there was the possibility of having a 16th in the mix. With no contact since, however, I wasn’t betting on it. As it turns out, she did show up, though I also had one player out sick.

Of more immediate concern was the upcoming matches. All indications point to us playing our first BUCS match on Wednesday, with a tune-up South West league match before that on Sunday. Unfortunately, a couple of the probable starters for Wednesday (M2 and L/O2) can’t make Sunday’s match. Also, one of my three starting setter candidates is unavailable for Wednesday for academic reasons. That means I need to focus on the other two setters in the short term, leaving me to use the to-be-missing one as a libero for Sunday’s match.

Topping my training to-do list was Run & Serve, which I wanted to do last week – just good serves, nothing more at this stage. As per usual, serve and serve receive to take advantage of the larger space were to be main features. I made this the first drill after warming-up. It took maybe 10 times through for everyone to get their serves in. Not horrible, but could have been better.

From there I moved them to player winners and eventually to winner’s 4s with fixed setters (setter for the winning team goes to/stays on the winner’s side) in the form of my two prospective starters for next week. That then progressed to 6 v 6 in the form of the 2-in-2 game to work on serve receive offense, with regular play for the last 10 minutes (after I did a quick serve receive rotation walk-through to show them the different options for mixing things up).

Observations: A) should have done the serve receive walk-through at the outset. B) I hope low intensity isn’t going to be the Thursday training pattern. C) I need to find some ways to motivate/encourage talking among the B side players as they were virtually silent at times.

Here’s hoping Sunday’s SW match serves to start bringing things together and providing more focus through the lens of external competition.

By the way, the trial player was decent, but not someone likely to challenge the starting group. As a result, I told her we just didn’t have room for another player (15 is already pushing it). She was not well pleased by that.

Coaching Log – Oct 8 2014

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

I finished up with my individual meetings on Tuesday feeling like the players were in a generally good mental state at this point. Of course, things can change once we get into playing the competitive matches.

I had two major focuses for this training. One was to see lots of the three setter candidates for starting first team setter in action. The other was to work the first team together in something at least approximating the 5-1 line-up we’re likely to use over the weekend and next week should that indeed be our first BUCS league match.

With that in mind, I designed the following training:

Dynamic warm-up
Blocking and hitter transition footwork
Wall serves as a serving warm-up (because of odd numbers), then target serving
14-player Serve-Pass-Hit
Continuous Transition hitting
22 vs. 22

Because I had 15 players, for the Serve-Pass-Hit I added a second setter on one of the half-courts. I had the players rotate such that the hitter went to set on the other side and I had them play out the rallies. There was some confusion, but I forced them to work through the problems with minimal intervention from me – as they would have to in a match. That took longer than I had really planned, which meant I dropped the transition hitting, but I didn’t feel like it was a big loss.

For the two 6 v 6 games I basically put them in to A/B sides, though I mixed the players around. There are three clear starters right now (two returners and a new MB). The other three positions were rotated some to get a couple of different players working through. I had all three setters in the A side on one or more occasions (I did give the new addition from last week a bit more time as I’d seen her less, but liked what I did see).

Overall, the game play was massively improved. Clearly, just having one setter (which I did for both sides) smoothed out a lot of the rough patches. The hitting was way more impactful, with some very good swings from a number of players. There’s still plenty of work to be done on communication and movement/positioning, but things are coming along. The serving was VERY strong when they were doing their target work.

Coaching Log – Oct 6 2014

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

I had individual meetings with about half the team yesterday (with the other half scheduled for today). During our team meeting last week I told them to come up with some personal developmental goals, and most of the conversations centered on them. Two points of clarity arose out of the discussions. First, one player whose commitment to being available for matches was uncertain (on my end) clarified things. Second, one of the players I have been using in the 2-setter system up to now told me she really wants to become a good setter.

That latter one is especially important as I’d already decided the 2-setter thing wasn’t something we could continue moving forward. It frees me up to shift the other player – last year’s OPP – back to a non-setting role, which I think will benefit us in the long run. Not that the setting position is locked, however. There are three players who could potentially take the job. I will be looking closely at all of them this week and during match play on Sunday.

Training was fairly technical. I had them start with blocking footwork, both individually and in combinations to work on communication and timing. After that I had them do three ball-handling drills in partner situations – Short-Long, run -throughs, and Pass & Touch. Overhead passing is something I hadn’t focused much on so far, so I wanted to give it a bit of time.

After that they did a serving warm-up. Then I had them to some target serving in zone pairs (1/2, 6/3, 5/4) as a lead in to a serving/passing/hitting drill.

That drill split the court in half lengthwise and featured 7 players on each – one server on each end line, two passers on each side of the court, and a setter alternating sides. This is an alternating serve drill. A ball is served to the two passers. Assuming a good enough pass, the setter will set one of them. She then goes out to replace the server on her side. The setter switches sides and the drill is repeated for the other side. We did this for about 20 minutes, with a new pair of setters switched in along the way. I didn’t have them play the rally out – though could easily have done so (and probably will at other times).

Training ended with Winners 4s. Afterwards I spoke with them about the training diary some of them have been keeping (somewhat informally) and how they should try to link their daily observations to their personal goals rather than just have it be random things from day-to-day. I also emphasized that we need more and better communication.

Coaching Log – Oct 2 2014

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

The first order of business last night was a team meeting. Of course I’ve done on-court talks before and after each training. They were mainly focused on practicalities and training points of focus, though. This was going to be a bigger picture discussion – the first we’ve had a chance to do. I would have preferred not to do it right before training, as I like to have a bit of separation between meetings and trainings, but I needed to get the meeting done sooner rather than later and this was the best available option.

The topics I had on my list to discuss were:

  • My coaching tenure
  • Season expectations and objectives
  • Keys to 2013-14 success
  • 1st/2nd team
  • What does it take to …. (be 1st team, be a starter, etc.)
  • Training diaries
  • Respect and Comportment
  • Scheduling of a US match viewing next week
  • Scheduling of individual player meetings next week
  • Developing individual goals

In terms of training, it was again in the big gym, so serving & passing were a central theme. Because we had some real issues with transition movements on Wednesday, I started training with work on that after an abbreviated dynamic warm-up. I then progressed them into a serving warm-up against the wall for the sake of speed, followed by 10 good serves on the net.

I didn’t end up doing Run & Serve as I’d originally intended because we were a bit crunched on time and I wanted to make sure to get in plenty of serving and passing and 6 v 6 for stats and video purposes respectively.

In hindsight, I should have expected what I ended up seeing. I had, after all, designed Wednesday’s session to be challenging with some likely carry-over effects. I didn’t even think about that, though, until I was leaving training last night. Looking at it from that perspective, the way things played out makes some sense.

The first team players passed noticeably worse than they did a week ago when the stats were last taken. Collectively they were at 1.44 as compared to 1.70. That put them on par with where the second team players passed, which actually was an improvement. I’m taking things with a slight grain of salt, though, as I was collecting the stats for the first team and one of the men’s players was doing so for the second team. He may have tended toward being more generous, which could also mean that his numbers from last week were a little inflated by comparison.

The remainder of training was a game which for the first time pitted the first team against the second. The rules were that the second team scored points in the normal fashion, but the first team could only score on an ace, block, or kill. The second team got out to a decent sized lead at one point, but eventually the first team overtook them for a 25-20 win – largely on the back of serving.

No part of the play was particularly good. The setting was all over the place resulting in very little hitting, and what hitting there was didn’t impress much. There remained too much in the way of panicky play on both sides. There wasn’t enough communication. You name it, they were sub-par. I told them so at the end, and they seemed to agree.

I’m still thinking about the 6 v 6 issue. The second team didn’t do very much to challenge the first team. It was largely junk that came over the net.

Coaching Log – Oct 1, 2014

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

Top of the list of challenges for last training was potential new player integration. Basically, back to where I was at last week expecting to have additional bodies to evaluate (though they never materialized).

On Tuesday night I went to the first of the club’s Intermediate training sessions for the new year. This isn’t something I can recall having done before, but there were a couple of players we’d heard about over the last couple of weeks as prospects for the BUCS team who never ended up taking part in one of our sessions. I wanted to see if any of them turned up and were potential BUCS material (for the men’s team as well).

Admittedly, I was also feeling a bit of a need for a volleyball fix. Not sure what to make of that!

Turns out I spotted a player with the potential to come in as a first team setter. Saw her some during hitting lines and talked with her a bit along the way. She said she’s played since middle school, primarily as OPP, but in a second setter type role. Not much in the way of size, but moved and carried herself in a way that suggests experience and confidence, which would be nice to have in a setter. Unfortunately, Intermediates training is not a place where one gets the chance to see a player really challenged, so I invited her to BUCS training to get a proper look.

I’ve been thinking about running a 6-2 system with the first team (and perhaps an international 4-2). That’s largely because neither of my setting options are spectacular. One is last year’s OPP who is certainly capable, but I’d rather have her hit. The other is a new Libero/OPP who can set a decent ball most of the time, but has definite limitations. If I can bring in a clear primary setter, I’d love to do so.

And of course when it rains it pours. I heard Tuesday night from one of the club captains that there would likely be another player coming along to training for me to have a look at. This one said she has a couple of years of club experience in Germany. We’ve had quite a bit of success with German players on both the women’s and men’s teams the last two years, so she’s someone I definitely have to take a look at.

As it turns out, we had a player missing from training and the captain was feeling under the weather. That gave me a bit of space to plug in the extra bodies. They were going to get a baptism by fire, though. The training I had in mind was one meant to be both physically and mentally challenging, as I warned the team would happen at the end of Monday’s session.

The three cornerstone drills I had in mind were Run Serve Receive, Continuous Cross-Court Digging, and Run & Serve. The first two require players to move a lot individually (though in small groups) and execute ball-handling skills in a counted fashion. The idea there is to see who exhibits the mental toughness to push through and keep going. The last drill changes to a team focus, so shifts toward a situation where players feel pressure not to let the group down and to maintain a positive attitude in the face of their peers struggling. In combination, these drills will press player fitness, likely leaving them feeling the effects ahead of Thursday’s training to create a secondary pressure on them for that session.

Given the fact that I needed to see the new player(s) doing more than just serving, passing, and digging though, I decided it was best to hold off on Run & Serve, and bring it into Thursday’s training when we had the big gym where we can do serves without the service area limitations. With that in mind, and keeping in the general theme of individual pressure to carry on, I decided to do some transition hitting by position.

Training basically went according to plan in terms of sequence and timing. One player sat out because of a finger injury, but the captain got through things without too much trouble, so I was on 14. Not surprisingly, some players struggled to get through the two ball-handling drills and I would have liked to have heard more sustained teammate support as things got quiet at times.

I hit A LOT of balls!

I wasn’t overly pleased by the transition hitting drill. Too many players couldn’t remember the sequence of moves, transition movements were poor, the setting was erratic, and generally it was too slow given the number of players.

I had them play Winners 4s at the end, which went pretty well. Serving is coming along at a good pace. I them do some it it near the beginning and introduced the use of a knotted towel to work on arm speed (using the towel against a wall).

Unfortunately, the German player just wasn’t up to the standard. The prospective setter fit in quite well, but wasn’t as strong in her setting as I would have liked. She can probably develop to that point if she’s got the motivation (which I need to address). Beyond that, she knows what she’s doing on the court, has good presence, is pretty quick, and called the ball (and for the ball) right from the outset. If setting isn’t in the cards – at least to start – she could be decent libero.

Talked with the captain and one of the returners after training. There are a lot of good elements in the first team squad. The players competing for OH time are doing well. I still need to address the second MB position, but there are a couple options. It’s clear that setter is the biggest issue.

Coaching Log – Sep 29, 2014

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

Over the weekend all but one of the players took part in a beach volleyball focused trip. I did not attend, but they got a couple of sessions of coaching by the England Juniors beach coach. The main purpose was one of team bonding, and the reports suggest mixed results there. I won’t get the full story (or as much as I want/need to know, anyway) until probably Wednesday when the team captain returns from a conference. The suggestion, however, is that we may have some toughness issues and a lack of discipline. The captain suggested addressing the issue of fitness, which has been on my to-do list already.

From the beach coach I got a separate report in terms of stuff she went over with them on the court. Several elements were things I have either already started to address (footwork patterns) or had noted from last week’s work to bring up (playing with intention). She made similar observations about some of their serving as I did while creating a video for them from footage taken in Thursday’s session.

This session was 90 minutes in the small training gym. Top of my list of things to do in the session was to assess the setters and middles in terms of running quicks. I knew going it that the strongest MB could do it, but the rest was an open question. Last year the quick never developed for a number of reasons. This year I want to prioritize it if possible.

This was the plan going in:

Blocking footwork
Volley tennis
Serving warm-up and target serving
Backrow Hitting lines
Split group: Quick hitting / OH pass & hit
Player winners

I actually managed to get through all of those things as planned and more or less as anticipated. This was the first time they’ve done volley tennis and player winners. They went pretty well.

In the latter case I ran parallel games with 7 players on each half court. About halfway I had the top three players from one court swap with the bottom three from the other. This is something I’m going to keep tabs on over time to see what kind of evolution there is in who ends up on the “winners” court.

I did quite a bit of technical coaching in this session. First it was in the serving warm-up. I prepared a video of some of the serving done in the prior session to highlight the good mechanics, and posted that for them to watch. Most of them had before training, so I was able to key them on certain training points. There is starting to be progress already, though a couple players need sorting out.

The other major technical work was in the quick hitting drill. Both setters and hitters needed some direction. I was a bit disappointed in the setting side of things as one of the players I’ve been looking at as either a starter for the first team, or part of a 6-2 system was not one of the better performers. One of my projected second team setters actually did well.

I talked with the team afterwards about having intention when playing the ball, as there was a lot of “panic” type play in the 6 v 6 last session. I also talked about slowing the game down by taking the ball lower, which is something I know got discussed over the weekend. I finished up talking about fitness and getting the players to submit ideas for modifying the warm-up sequence.

I also warned the team that I will be making things harder – both mentally and physically – moving forward.

Coaching Log – Sep 25, 2014

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

Last night’s session was 90 minutes long in the big gym on the main campus. The big gym offers two distinct advantages.

First, there’s ample service area to allow us to work on match-like serving. In our other gym, one step from the back wall and you’re in the court.

Second, there’s a balcony running along the end of the hall. There’s one in the other gym too, but it runs along the side. And because it looks right down on the court, it’s basically impossible to get a camera angle with full court coverage.

That being the case, it was my intention to take advantage of the better surroundings to allow the players to work on match-like serving and to get video of them playing 6 v 6 – both to allow me to do some statting and so they could see what they’re doing (or not doing) on the court.

I was also potentially going to have a trialist at the session.

Well, the trialist didn’t materialize (apparently she’s not arriving on campus for 2 weeks???). I had one of the men’s players on hand to help out with some stat-taking and video, so the session actually went pretty much as planned. After dynamic warm-up I had them play Touch & Go to highlight court communication needs and to get them thinking about what’s happening on the other side of the net. They then did a serving warm-up, after which I split the group in half by A and B teams for station work. One group went with me on the side to do some digging (singularly and in pairs), while the other did serving and passing where they were scored on the 0-3 scale. The last part of training was dedicated to the 22 vs 22 wash game, with integrated squads.

Not surprisingly, the A team did far better in the passing than the B team did. They came in at 1.70 (vs just above 1.00). This is about in line with where the A team players from last year were when I took stats early in the season. The difference there, though, was last year the A team players were receiving serve from both A and B team servers whereas this year it was A serving to A. I’d therefore suggest we have at least a little bit better passing at this point in the season than we did in 2013-14.

I definitely got myself a work-out hitting for the defense drill!

I had my helper video all the players during the serving so I can provide the ones in need of technical work (most of the team, really) a side-by-side comparison of their technique to something more optimal. I also had him video the 6 v 6 so I could share it with them, and potentially do some stat collection. The latter may not really be of any use, though. The quality of play was very poor in general terms.

Because of that last observation, I’ve decided that at least for the next few weeks as we get ready for the first A team BUCS matches (the B team won’t play until probably November) I am going to have to split the A and B groups when doing 6 v 6 because the better players are getting very little out of being in integrated squads. The B players are just too weak. This will mean I have to get creative in setting up games and scoring systems and ball initiation strategies to be able to push the A team players while also giving the B team a chance to have successes of their own.

Coaching Log – Sep 24, 2014

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

This was the first official team training of the new season after final cut-down was made on Tuesday. The main idea was to set the overall tone of expectations for training and how I want the team to play.

I actually already started that on Monday and Tuesday in terms of being on time and what happens at the start of the session while the net is being put up. I expect those not involved to ball-handle lightly or do other volleyball-related activities until we’re good to go – not just stand around watching and chatting. They were told about how we had to institute consequences for tardiness last season and how I hoped that would not have to be the case this year.

Additionally, on Tuesday I introduced them to my balls-don’t-drop stance. That was something I wanted to reinforce at the start of training.

The key thing I was looking to start to develop, though, was the “gym as a safe environment” philosophy. By that I mean we are all supportive of each other and we are accepting of making mistakes – both our own and others – as part of the learning and development process. And not only do we support our teammates, but we accept support from them.

In terms of the volleyball, there were a couple of things I wanted to focus on:

1) Serving technique – This is mainly for the B team group where specific training is likely required to get them using consistent mechanics, but even with some of the A team players there may be an issue here or there.

2) Start to identify likely primary passers – This is mainly for the A team group as they will be the first to start competing (first SWVA in 2.5 weeks, then BUCS in 3 weeks). For this I wanted to do some statting of serve reception.

3) Evaluate blocking – I wanted to take a look at footwork and the other mechanical elements to see where work needs to be done.

Here was the plan:

– Blocking footwork patterns along the net as initial warm-up
Passing triplets and quads as a continued warm-up
– Target serving (zones 1, 5, and short)
– Get two serving and passing
– Game play

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending in your perspective), three of the players were not dressed and ready to go on-time, so training started off with consequences. These players were 5 minutes tardy in being ready to go, so we did 5 sets of 4 (4 length of court sprints). Last year we did stuff at the end of training (not sprints, generally), but because this was the first day I wanted to reinforce the “be on time and ready to go” immediately – as well as the fact that it impacted the team, not just the individual.

Following the sprints, to let them catch their breath, I talked with them about the stuff I mentioned above. I told them about the positive gym atmosphere. I talked about how pushing themselves helps push the team forward, and mentioned the way improvements in last year’s team along the way made for increasingly competitive and intense training sessions as the season progressed.

After the talk, I had them do blocking footwork along the net – first single step shuffle, then the step-crossover-hop move. A fair bit of work will need to be done with especially the B-team players to make those patterns automatic. The blocking technique itself wasn’t horrible, though we don’t have any particularly big blockers.

I had them first do the passing triplets/quads. They started with overhand throws to act as an initial shoulder warm-up and to simulate a float serve with more control than we were likely to have if they simply served to start. After I think two rotations through, I did then have them go to short serves (meaning from inside the court, not that they served the ball short). This allowed me to observe common issues to address with the group, and to focus on certain things with individual players.

From there I had them do target serving. They had to put 5 balls in each of deep zones 1 and 5, and if they did that, to serve short. Again, I used the opportunity to do some individual player corrections.

After that it was the team serving and passing. Unfortunately, several balls dropped, so the team had to face the consequences (immediate set of 4). I had the players keep track of their passes so we could mark down each time through how many good out of how many total. In this case, I defined good as middle third of the court in front of the 3m line, so it wasn’t about perfect balls. Predictably, some players struggled. Others did quite well.

I finished up by having them play narrow court (about 2/3 width) Winners 4s. There was some ugly stuff, of course, but the captain told me afterwards she was pretty pleased with how competitive the players were. Along the way I reinforced both the value of taking risks and the need to communicate – particularly hitter availability when out-of-system.

Overall, not a bad session and not a great session. It was probably about what I expected. I’ve decided that at least for a while I want to have the A team players doing serving & passing together because the B team players were clearly struggling with some of the strong serves a couple of A team players have. I want to slow things down a bit for the B team players to let them focus on their technique a bit more and gain some confidence. They will still get to face the tougher serves at times in game-play situations.

We have out next training session tonight – 90 minutes in the big gym.

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