Archive for Volleyball Drills

Thoughts on the Coach vs. Defense Drill

A drill you’ll see a lot of in volleyball pre-game warm-ups is coach vs. defense. By that I mean players are on-court in their defensive positions with a coach attacking at them from near the net. For example, the coach is in position 2, there’s a setter in position 3 with defenders in positions 1, 6, and 5. The coach hits the ball at the defenders, they dig to the setter, and the setter sets the ball to the coach to be attacked again.

There are any number of variations on this structure. You could have fewer or more defenders on the court. There are different ways to have players sub in and out. Sometimes players rotate based on who plays the ball. Regardless, the basic idea is to give the players a defensive warm-up. Maybe there is work on covering exposed space and communicate.


I ran these drills during my earlier collegiate coaching days. I tended not to like them – especially in pre-match warm-ups. In that specific situation I found it only has a downside risk with little in the way of upside. I don’t remember any times when the players finished up coach vs. defense with an improved attitude. I can recall many times when it was a somewhat frustrating experience, though. Maybe they weren’t playing balls in seams properly. Perhaps the intensity level wasn’t as high as it should be. Maybe they were being lazy in their transitions. Whatever the case, it didn’t feel like a good preparation for the match to come.

Beyond that psychological element, I have a few other gripes.

The attack angles aren’t realistic: Unless the coach is very tall, the ball being hit at the player is coming from too low relative to the net for realism. Plus, the coach is significantly closer to the defenders than an attacker would be. This is less an issue for the deeper defenders. For those close by (line), though, it creates real reaction and anticipation issues. It also and/or forces the coach to hit the ball softer.

Lazy movement and transition: Too often when I watch this drill going I see players barely moving on defense. They are meant (in most cases) to work on going from base to defense and back. A lot of time, however, they stay just in defense. Why? Because the ball is always going to the same location. As a result, they don’t need to worry about reacting to the set location.

Too many of the wrong sets: Most of the time in these drills the setter must back-set to the coach who attacks from Zone 2. This is fine for the defenders since it replicates sets to Zone 4 on the other side. It’s a lot of reps for the setter to an area that will probably represent the minority of sets in game situations, though. Firstly, the majority of dug balls will get set to the OH in Zone 4. Secondly, by forcing the setter to set Zone 2 from all angles, you require them to set at difficult angles for would-be hitters. For example, a ball dug toward Zone 1 is generally not a ball a setter should set to a right side attacker because of the angle. This is especially true for a right-handed hitter.

Cutting things off after the dig: In a match situation after the back row players dig, they need to be moving to prepare to cover on a set to a front-row player. In this drill, though, the players instead are immediately looking toward the next attack.

Coach-centric: How you look at this aspect of the drill depends on your focus. The coach is the main driver of this drill in most set-ups. That means they can control things quite a bit – for better or worse. If you’re the only coach, being an active participant in the drill means you’re going to have a hard time watching the fullness of what’s going on. It also means that if you want to make a coaching point you have to completely stop the drill. Not good if you just want to talk with one player.

Getting to success: Many of the ways coaches run coach vs. defense don’t have a positive objective to them. One example a player or a group of players rotate out on an error or the ball hitting the floor. That’s not the kind of confidence-building experience you want the players to have pre-match.

Of course every drill has drawbacks. Whether you use any given one depends on whether the value your players get out of it offsets the negatives. There are a few ways you can potentially improve the coaching vs. defense drill for your purposes, though.

1. Take yourself out: If you have an assistant coach, great! If not, consider using a player in the attacker role. The the latter introduces some other potential issues, but the general idea is to allow you to step back and observe. That will let you coach without necessarily having to stop the entire drill to do so.

2. Have a goal: Instead of running the drill for time or until someone makes a mistake, give the players an objective to reach before they sub out or rotate or whatever. It could be a number of good dig-set reps or a given amount of time without the ball dropping, or whatever suits the needs of your team. The idea here is to give the players a feeling of accomplishment at its finish rather than a sense of failure or punishment.

3. Add in a second attacker: In order to force players to be more disciplined about their defensive movement, make it 2-hitter drill by having hitters in both Zone 2 and Zone 4. Giving the setter two options forces the defenders to return to balance between plays.

4. Attack from over the net: This isn’t something you’ll be able to do in pre-match warm-ups, of course, but it might be something you can work-out in training. Done efficiently, it will allow you to incorporate more realistic setting situations for the setter and coverage movement for the defenders if done effectively.

Those are just some thoughts I have. What do you think? Do you use a version of coach vs. defense that you like? How can we make it better and more realistic?

Drill: Hitter Tourney

Synopsis: This is drill which can be used to put hitters into a competitive situation for the purposes of assessment..

Age/Skill Level: This is suitable for intermediate to advanced players

Requirements: 7 players, 1 ball, full court

Execution: Place three back row players (including a setter) and a blocker on one side, and a setter, a defender, and an Outside Hitter on the other side as per the diagram below. The 4-player side serves every ball to either the defender or OH. The teams then play through a rally. On the receiving side the OH must attack every ball (if possible). On the serving side, only back row attacks are permitted. Play out 10 rallies and keep track of how many times the OH’s team wins.

OH tourney volleyball drill


  • You can run a similar drill with right side hitters, or even back row attackers.
  • Since the serve is only going to the D or OH on the receiving side, you can have the Setter start in any zone to work on movement to target.
  • The setter on the serving side could also be the Blocker, allowing for the insertion of a third defender in the back row..
  • You could potentially alternate OHs on a rotation rather than having one player go through 10 straight reps.

Additional Comments:

  • This drill was described by USA National Team setter Courtney Thompson in a seminar at the 2013 American Volleyball Coaches Association annual convention.
  • For the most fair assessment of hitters, have them work against the same defensive group and have the same setter and defender on their side. That doesn’t prevent you mixing things up and running the drill for multiple cycles.

Volleyball Coaching Concept – Build-up drills

I previously discussed the idea of planning your volleyball training sessions from the end back to the start. The thought there is to be able to build toward a desired training focus or outcome. It also can create a progression from lower intensity and more technical work toward higher intensity, more tactical action. The same can be done for drills by progressively adding complexity.

For example, let’s start with a simple hitter vs blocker type drill – one RS blocker, a setter, and perhaps a few hitters attacking through 4. The starting focus can be on the blocker properly positioning themselves and executing technically sound blocks.

The next step would be to add in a middle blocker. We’ve now just raised the complexity by introducing the need for the pin blocker to sync up with the MB.

The next step could be to add a quick middle attack on the hitting side. This will keep the MB from cheating toward the outside attack and make for a more game-like situation.

Next we can add in one or more defenders working on playing around the block. There are also various options for adding in passers and different types of ball initiations to further extend both the game-like quality and the complexity.

This sort of build up is something you can do if you want to move toward working on something specific. In this instance it might be a defensive system in which you’re integrating the blocking scheme with the floor defense. You can do the same sorts of progressions to work on offensive systems and plays.

Progression drills do not have to be for working on complex play, though. You can use them just as well for working on more fundamental aspects of play. For example, turning a standard hitting line from something where a toss goes into the setter to one where a pass is required is a progression. You could then step up the complexity by taking it from a free ball pass to a down ball pass to a serve receive pass or maybe to a dig. By doing so you are increasingly linking game actions together so players are not working just on skills in isolation, which I always strongly advise.

Drill: 2-and-1 Pepper with Movement

Synopsis: This is a nice 3-person pepper variation which could be used as a warm-up drill and/or to work on ball control in general terms.

Age/Skill Level: This is suitable for all levels

Requirements: 3 players, 1 ball

Execution: Have two players off the net and one at it (or otherwise put the players somewhere on the court with a bit of space). The player at the net attacks the ball at one of the pair off the net. The non-digger takes the second ball and sets it back to the hitter. The two diggers then switch positions before the next attack. Continue for time or a given number of successful dig-set reps.


  • For lower skill levels the player at the net can substitute a passed or set ball for a hit.
  • The hitter can either hit to the same spot each time (meaning players alternate digging) or can randomly pick which direction to hit.

Additional Comments:

  • A potential coaching focus point is the footwork used in the position change.
  • Players should be able to problem-solve preparing for the set and giving themselves time for transition before having another hit come their way, but less experienced players may require a bit of nudging in the right direction.

Drill: Back and Front Setting Warm-Up

Synopsis: If you’re looking for something to use to get players both front and back set reps using relatively little space, perhaps as a warm-up, this could be one your want to use.

Age/Skill Level: This is suitable for all levels

Requirements: 2-3 players, 1 ball

Execution: Place one setter in the normal target position and another near the right antenna. Have a coach also along the net at a distance away from the setter near the right antenna equal a normal outside set. If you think of the setter as being in zone 5 along the net, it is 4 places to zone 1 where outside sets go. Thus, if the right antenna setter is in zone 9, then the coach should be in zone 4. The coach passes/sets the ball to the setter in the normal target area, who back sets to the player in zone 9, who then sets all the way across to the coach. The players switch positions while the ball is in the air and the coach plays the ball to the target area once more, keeping the action continuous.


  • You can replace the coach with a player.
  • You could insert a 4th player off the net as a passer. In that case the coach would play the ball to the passer and things would proceed from there.

Additional Comments:

  • I saw this drill used as a warm-up by the Norway U17 girls team.
  • In the basic set up, this drill has the advantage of using little space. It could be run up near a wall rather than by the net, if necessary.

Drill: Belly-to-Dig

Synopsis: This is a player-centric drill which can be used to work individual digging movement and handling technique, while also offering the potential for use as a conditioning exercise.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for all levels

Requirements: 3 players, 2 balls

Execution: Position the three players in a triangle about 6 meters apart. Two players have a ball and the third is laying on their stomach facing the others. One of the players slaps the ball. The one on the ground gets up, then shuffles over so they are even with the player who slapped the ball. That standing player attacks a ball to be dug. The receiving player then goes back to the start, and repeats the process with the other standing player. Repeat for four digs total.


  • You can increase the number of digs to raise the workload.
  • You may require only good digs, based on whatever criteria you feel suits your group
  • For lower level players the ball to be dug could be a toss rather than a spike.

Additional Comments:

  • As a player-centric drill, this could be something used in a stations set-up combined with other drills.
  • It could be used as a conditioning exercise.
  • As a coaching point, make sure to pay attention to both foot movement and the dig execution.

Drill: 4-Player Pair Pepper

Synopsis: This is a pepper variation which creates a more realistic 3-touch sequence. It is a good warm-up drill, one which can be used in place of normal 2-player pepper.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for all levels

Requirements: 4 players, one ball

Execution: This is a basic pepper done with two pairs of partners. It starts with the pair on one side attacking a ball at the other other pair. That pair then executes a dig-set-hit to send the ball back to the first pair. Continue from there as normal pepper. Essentially, it is a cooperative 3-touch pairs game played without a net.


  • For less skilled players, you could go with a dig-set-set or dig-set-pass exchange, removing the hitting element.
  • For more advanced players you can reduce the contacts to 2 touches and require the dug ball be attacked.

Additional Comments:

  • This drill can be used in warm-ups. It offers the advantage of taking up a bit less space on the court than two set of pairs peppering.

Drill: Basic Blocking Footwork

Synopsis: This is a drill for working on the foundational blocking footwork which can be incorporated quite easily into a warm-up routine.

Age/Skill Level: This is suitable for all levels

Requirements: A net

Execution: Start players at the net in proper blocking ready position. Have them practice executing single and multi-step movements along the net (shuffles, cross-overs, etc.).


  • You can set this up either with all players at the net working from a que or by having players go in a line first one way, then the other.
  • Depending on the needs of your players you can either just have them do the footwork, or have them extend the move into the block jump.
  • Players doing approaches opposite the blockers on the other side of the net can be introduced to provide a que and also work on properly fronting the hitter and timing the jump.

Additional Comments:

  • This can be a good warm-up exercise
  • You may want to avoid having players block directly across from each other as that tends to lead to players not fully penetrating when they execute their blocks.
  • Make sure to reinforce the coaching ques you have for blocking in the areas of body position, penetration of the net, eye focus, etc.

Drill: Servers vs. Passers Scoring

Synopsis: This is a serving and passing focused drill which offers some flexibility for you to put players in a competitive situation.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for all levels

Requirements: full court, two groups of at least 3 players, several balls

Execution: Place half the team on one side of the net as servers and the other half the teams on the other side as serve receive passers, with a target. The serving team will take turns serving to the other team. Whichever player passes the ball moves to target with a new player filling in. The target sends the ball back to the servers, then goes to the back of the passing line. Each pass is scored on the 0-3 scale with the passing team getting that many points and the serving team getting 3 minus whatever the passers got. For example, if the passers get a 2 pass they would get 2 points and the servers would only get 1 point (3-2). A missed serve counts as 3 points for the passing team. The first team to a designated point objective wins. Switch passers and servers and go again.


  • You can use an alternative pass scoring system.
  • If you want more aggressive serves you could either not count missed serves or have them worth fewer points to the passing team.
  • You may also use different scoring for each side if you are working A team vs. B team.

Additional Comments:

  • Having consequences for the losers may increase competitiveness.
  • If you find either servers or passers consistently winning, you may have to alter the scoring system to make things more competitive.
  • You may also find that you need to adjust the scoring and/or length of the game over the course of a season as players develop to keep things balanced.
  • Keep an eye out to see if servers start specifically targeting weaker passers, which is strategically a good idea and also gives those players more reps.
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