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

The season is finally underway! Here’s how the first week went.

This was a very light session following the three straight days of play over the weekend. It was a “no jump” training. We focused on technical work related to ball-handling, both in serve reception and defense. In particular, I had the players work in pairs and groups of three on passing high center line balls, and dig balls in front of them and to the sides.

No training today because I had to go to a league meeting with our team manager/Sport Director and team captain. The players, though, were involved in a “club evening”, which brought players from most or all of the club’s teams together.

Just the core 10 for training. We had a reporter come by before we got going. He was supposed to be there 30 minutes ahead of our start time, but was 15 minutes late. Then he only interviewed one player and I had to pull her away so we could get things started. The player in question is the one Swedish addition this season, so no surprise there would be interest in talking with her, but it was a surprise that she was the only one.

I talked with the players for several minutes before we started about stuff from Tuesday’s meeting, having taken a bit of a look at the upcoming opposition, and generally some things i want the team to focus on. Block positioning and using more shots were the two main ones.

After our usual Wednesday start-up game and some technical ball-handling work, I had the players play Speedball winners in teams of 2 with fixed setters as their game-play warm-up. From there we moved on to a 5 v 5 version of High Ball to Receive. The motivation was to work both on block positioning and hitting against a well-formed block, both of which I saw as developmental needs. I instructed the setters to mix up the sets to the OH about 50/50 between normal balls to the pin and inside sets. On the one hand that’s to work on getting the blockers to recognize the attack angles and position themselves properly. The other is to work on being able to vary our attack. We finished with one round of 22 v 22.

The tempo of this training was a bit lower than I’d normally like because the players did a lot of talking with each other working through offense and defense stuff. I was OK with that both in terms of encouraging their communication and because they’d had their weight training session before-hand.

We were in an alternative gym doing a make up for missing Tuesday’s session. Because we were sharing the gym, the set-up was one with almost no space beyond the end line, so generally I avoided things which were player serving oriented. After warm-ups, to continue the technical defense work we’ve begun this week, we did the Continuous Cross-Court Digging drill. The players did the hitting, so the power and accuracy there’d be if coaches were hitting wasn’t quite the same. That slowed the tempo a little, but resulted in a wider variety of required dig movements which isn’t a bad thing. It’s much closer to random.

After that, I had them play Winners 3s, this time without fixed setters. The last part of the training was the 22 v 22 game covering 5 rotations – at least in terms of where the setter came from in serve reception. I had a former member of the club’s 2nd team helping out. She served all the balls and played defense in 6 on the serving side, while the receiving side only had 5.

We started the session with a bit of video review, watching Saturday’s opposition Örebro. It was a pre-season match they played against Lindesberg last weekend. Watching pre-season play is always a bit iffy, but it gave the Swedish players a chance to talk about what they know of the Örebro players.

There were 11 players for the session. I didn’t want to run training too long – only about 90 minutes. After the warm-ups I split out the setters and middles to work on quick sets and some blocking footwork, while the rest of the squad did serving and passing. From there we progressed to Winners 3s with fixed setters. I had assigned teams to ensure a MB on each so they could continue working on the quick sets.

After that we played five point games of 5 v 6. The team of 5 featured the OH playing backrow, leaving Zone 4 empty, so I required the team of 6 to attack through 3 or 4 or back row. The team of 6 served each ball with their 3 back row players alternating. I ran through every rotation but 1, constantly shifting players around. We finished up with a single 25-point game in which Zone 6 was out on the side of the team with 5. It ended up being very tight.

I wasn’t really happy with the tempo of the game play for much of the session. It came down to the amount of talking they were doing in between plays. It was constructive communication, but it was really slowing things down. After the first few points of the final game I had to put a stop to it, which definitely helped.

Our match was at 15:00. The home match-day routine features a 1-hour serve and pass session, which we did at 11:00. After a dynamic warm-up they played 2-ball volleytennis, peppered a bit to warm up their shoulders, then did serving and passing. We finished up with a rotating back court attack exchange activity for a few minutes. The team then had lunch together before getting some free time before meeting up again for the pre-match preparation. A couple of the Swedish players did a bit of a photo shoot for some of the promotional material.

The match was a mixed bag. Perhaps not surprisingly, the match was a bit sloppy from an administrative perspective. There were constant delays at the score table and the opposing coach actually cost her team a point and sideout at the start of the first set by not submitting her line-up in time.

From the indications we’ve had we get the impression that Örebro will be the strong team of the northern four (the other three being Soluntuna, Lindesberg, and RIG Falköping). They were down a starting OH for this match, however, because her work visa hadn’t cleared yet. That hurt them quite a from the looks of things, as they ended up shuffling players around looking for something that worked.

As has become a troubling pattern which needs to get addressed, we went down by several points early in the first set (0-6, I think) before settling down. Once we got going, though, Örebro struggled to stop us. We got back to level at 11-11, though couldn’t quite get over the hump and push ahead until after 20-20. We did close it out strong, though, to finish 25-21.

The second set was a complete blow-out at 25-13. Even that might have flattered the opposition a bit (it was 16-6 at the first timeout), as I used nearly all my subs and things got a little unfocused toward the end.

After the 10-minute intermission, we again had a bit of a rough start to the third set. We clawed back again, but we couldn’t really hold and extend our leads. As a result, it was uncomfortably close until once more we pulled away in the latter stages for another 25-21 win.

Örebro had a clear game plan of serving our American OH, Mo Simmons. By our count, she passed 31 balls, with no other player in double digits. This despite me taking her out one time across the back row during the second set. The funny thing is she had the best passing numbers on the team (2.03 on a 3-pt scale). It will be interesting to see if other teams try to follow suit because Mo was the best hitter in the match with 17 kills and 23 points overall.

We expect a tougher match when we face them at their place during the second half of the season – and potentially at Gran Prix in January.

Thoughts and observations
So far we’re 6-0 on the season if we count the pre-season results. At no point would I say we’ve played our best volleyball – at least over a full match. That’s good from the perspective of being able to win even when not in top form, but it definitely leads to concerns about eventually having someone take advantage. On the plus side, we are adapting how we play in-match quite well in terms of things like set distribution, adjusting on defense and block, etc. The communication is generally very good.

We need to sort out that early-set/match issue, which strikes me as a combination of tenseness for some players and over-aggression from others. In rallies there is a bit too much excitedness at times, so we need to work on playing with more calm. Serve reception remains a developmental area, as is individual digging. A couple players need to work on some of their hitting in terms of precision, and we need to incorporate more shots into our hitting. Right now it’s a lot of power and not much finesse.

Other stuff
In the other Saturday results, fellow southern team Gislaved handled Sollentuna rather easily in 3, which wasn’t too much of a surprise. The Lindesberg 3-2 win over RIG Falköping is interesting. RIG is an academy team (basically meaning Juniors age group players). I don’t know if this result says more about the young players doing well or Lindesberg not being so good. Maybe some of both, maybe neither. Hylte/Halmstad hosted Engelholm on Sunday in a battle of the other two southern teams. The home team won easily, which isn’t a surprise based on what we’ve seen of the two teams so far.

6 Steps to Better Practices - Free Guide

Subscribe to my weekly newsletter today and get this free guide to making your practices the best, along with loads more coaching tips and information.

No spam ever. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

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.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.