This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

On Sunday in a potentially surprising result, Engelholm beat Hylte 3-1 at home, giving the latter their first loss on the year. Combined with our win over Lindesberg, that sees Svedala and Hylte equal on 17 points. We jumped Örebro, who was inactive. The victory saw Engelholm strengthen its 4th place position. The only other match on the week saw Sollentuna get their first win in a 3-0 pounding of RIG. Here’s the table to start the new week.

Elitserie-Nov2915

Gislaved remained in mathematical contention for a spot in Gran Prix to begin the week as they could still get up to 15 points. If we beat them at their place on Thursday, though, or if they lost at home to Hylte on Saturday, it would officially knock them out of the running.

The remainder of the week’s schedule featured us hosting Engelholm and RIG hosting Lindesberg on Saturday, with Örebro hosting Sollentuna on Sunday. With Lindesberg and Örebro favored in their matches, our second go around with Engelholm was the one with the most likely chance of impacting on the hunt for Gran Prix spots. Two wins on the week would assure us of a top-2 seed for that tournament.

There were no matches counting toward the Oresund Liga standings, so the picture there started this week unchanged. Three matches this week, however, are on top for that competition. One of them is our away match to Gislaved. It was indicated originally that this one wouldn’t count, so maybe things will change at some point. The other two are Amager vs. Holte, meaning their Danish league match counting toward the Oresund Liga as ours with Gislaved does. The other is a cross-border battle: Holte vs. Engelholm.

Monday
I spent a whole bunch of time doing video work this day. I had to prepare some video on Thursday’s opponent, though just as a refresher since we’ve played them before. I shared game footage from their most recent match, and also pointed them to our prior meeting. I also prepared and posted video from our last two matches (Hylte and Lindesberg) so they could review.

For training, I was without my two starting OHs. One is still fighting a persistent illness while the other is recovering from the leg issue she developed during the match on Saturday. As per usual following a match, we started training talking about developments and started the process of looking forward to the next match.

One of the key components of that was our serving, where we’ve seen our error to ace ratio in recent matches push a bit higher than we’d like (it was 14 to 7 against Lindesberg). I don’t normally call out individuals in this kind of situation, but three players in particular have been the biggest factor. For the season they have something like 17 aces against 47 errors. We talked about the need to be more consistent, though I have also encouraged two of them in the development of their serves so, there’s balancing act.

As tends to be the case, this was a more technical session.

One of the three things I wanted to focus on were to continue training the step in digging. We did that using attacks from boxes over the net in a step up from what we’ve done.

A bigger priority, and what we spent the most time on was blocking. That started with an exercise in movement and footwork. We’ve had some issues with floating blocks, so I had the players working in their position to move fast and get a good plant with the outside foot. Later, we extended that by having the blockers work against hitters on boxes to add in the hand positioning.

Mixed in was a serving drill. The players were told to serve in to one half of the court. If they got the ball in that zone they got +1. If they missed the zone, but the ball was still in the court, that was 0. If they had a serving error, it was -1. The objective was to get to +10.

We finished up with a small-sided, narrow court game to 21.

Tuesday
The two starting OHs were once more out for training, but we had a couple of additions for a total of 10. After warm-ups, I had them continue their work on digging balls to the side with a cut-off step, but only in partners this time. I then also had them repeat the blocking footwork done on Monday. To complete the trio, they did the same +10 serving exercise, though focusing on the other half from what they did the prior session.

I had them play Speedball in teams of 2 with fixed setters as a game play warm-up. The rest of the training was spent doing 6 v 4. One of the sidelined OHs served from the 4 side to the 6. Once that rally played out, I gave a free ball to the 4 side. The setter on that side was back row. I started the 6 side with the setter in 1. Because I wanted to limit the amount of jumping for the starting setter, I had her play her three back row rotations, alternating rotations in which the MBs were front row (so 1, 5, 6). For the three front row setter rotations, I had the back-up setter playing on the 6 side.

A really fun element of the 6 v 4 was the excitement of one of our guest players – a young member of the 2nd team. She was playing OH on the 4 side. During the latter part of the exercise she started really connecting on her attacks and hit several balls really well. After each one she jumped and screamed as if she’d just won a championship. 🙂

Wednesday
Because the team in on “active rest” this week, we didn’t do team lifting before training. That will resume next week when they start the next training cycle.

The OH with the leg niggle (turns out to be hamstring related), was back for this session, but the one who’s been struggling with a long-term illness remained on the sidelines resting. As per usual, they began Wednesday training with 2-ball volleytennis.

A bit of pepper to extend the warm-up was followed by the cooperative cross court hitting drill. We haven’t done that one in a while and will face a team that is very left-side heavy in their offense – and further favors cross-court attacks. It’s not the most game like exercise in terms of replicating what we’ll see, but at least it gave us some work on defending.

From there we did some serving for consistency. That was then followed by the Winners back row 3s where instead of waving through, the losing team is replaced directly on their side while I initiate a ball to the winning team. Thursday’s opposition also likes to use the pipe attack, so this was a chance to work on defense against it.

From there we moved to a set of 5 vs 4 half court games. The 5 side had a front row setter, MB, and OH, with the libero in 5 and a guest defensive player in 6. The 4 side had a MB and RS in the front row and a setter and OH in 6 behind. They played the win or revert game I mentioned in a recent post, starting with the score at 20-20. I had them play 2 games in the initial player configuration. I then swapped players around after each set of 2. I think overall we played 8 or 10 games.

The session wrapped up with a bit of serve & pass. The MBs took turns working on reading the setter.

Thursday
This was a long midweek road trip than I think most folks would judge reasonable – 2.5 – 3.0 hours drive. Even the opposing team coach said as much. We left Svedala at a bit after 2:00 for the 7:00 match. Granted, we generally look to get to the facility about 2 hours ahead of start time. It wasn’t a horrible ride – certainly less onerous than the one to Lindesberg on the weekend.

2015-12-03 21.00.02

The match stared out well enough. We took the first set 25-15. Then it seems like we lost focus and let the energy we had bleed away. The result was a 14-25 loss in the second set.

The first part of the third set (after a 15 minute break) started off better, but still with a few niggles. We were having problems getting a good block formed against their outside attack because we were floating. I got a bit angry after seeing it happen one more time and called timeout, during which I instructed our right side players that they were to no long swing block (which we normally do), but to do square blocking.

No, we didn’t start blocking every ball. In fact, I’m not sure if we got a single block in either the 3rd or 4th sets. And no, our blocks weren’t always perfectly formed. Heck, I’m not even sure if they did what I said (need to check the video). What did happen, though, is that we put up a consistently better block that had the opposing OHs looking to hit around them (often to get dug) or have their swings go off the block to the defense.

We ended up winning the third 25-20 and the fourth 25-16.

Blocking issues aside, there were some good positive elements to our play. Defensively, we continue to improve. Our ace/error ratio was 13/11, which is a reversal of the recent pattern. Our 3rd OH came in as a serving/defense sub in three of the sets and scored 7 points on 9 serves. We passed above a 2.00 Our two American attackers were still the only ones in double digit kills, but unlike last time when no one else has more than 2, this time they all did – and had some good swings even when they didn’t get a kill. We hit about .290 as a team, with 45% kills. In fact, if you take out the 2nd set, we were up over 50%.

We did make our fair share of poor decisions, though. Our MBs got faked out a number of times (Gislaved’s setter is good at that), including the hated jumping with the back row setter. There were also a few plays where communication broke down.

Friday
My OH2 messaged me in the afternoon saying her doctor told her to come in to be checked out Saturday. She’s been fighting an illness for weeks and was put on penicillin this week. Her doctor told her if that didn’t help her then something potentially serious may be going on and that she shouldn’t be training or playing. The ironic thing is she’s been playing some of her best volleyball in recent matches. Potentially losing her in this crunch time period was not something I wanted to hear.

Training was very light. I had them do some 4-person over-the-net pepper, then transitioned that into rotating cooperative cross-court hitting at low intensity just to move and touch balls in a relatively game-like fashion. I had them do it both swinging through 4 and through 2. After that we did some target serving. The last part of training was serve and pass with some players mixing in a bit of hitting as well.

Saturday
We hosted Engelholm following the 2nd team playing a league match of their own. My sick OH was OK to play, but it was pretty easy to see that she wasn’t really mentally prepared to do it. I made the decision to start our third OH in her place. Honestly, I wasn’t sure it was going to make too much of a difference which of them was in based on the match-ups, but the one who started has been working hard and getting better, so deserved the opportunity.

The match was up and down. We lost the first set 21-25, then won the second 25-17. After the break, we in turn got trounced in the 3rd 16-25 thanks to a really bad start. We turned it around in the fourth to take the set 25-22, then used a good start to the 5th to take it 15-10 and get 2 points.

We struggled early on to stop their big OPP, but over the course of the match gave her more problems and forced her into bad swings. She still go her fair share of points, put our pressure on them with the serve really made a difference.

Thoughts and observations
This week’s two wins actually gives us our first winning streak since back in preseason. Good time for it as it secured a spot in Gran Prix and potentially a 1st or 2nd seed.

Two matches left until the holiday break. I might look to use it to give some players a break here or there, but it will depend on how things go.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently Technical Director for Charleston Academy. His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

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