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.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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