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

Here’s how things went over the second week:

We had two guest players in training, including an OH who played for the club two seasons ago that we’ve been trying to bring back into the fold (logistics have been a problem). I knew about one of them, but didn’t find out about the other until about 30 minutes before I had to leave for training. Needless to say, that forced me to rethink the plan. On the plus side, though, it allowed for 6 v 6 work, which we hadn’t been able to do since the prior Tuesday.

I had them start with 21 as a ball-handling warm-up. We were only on one court, so that meant groups of 4 rather than 3 as I would have preferred. Their objective was to go all the way through the 3 stages non-stop. Interestingly, only one group was able to do so before I had them all shift to 2 v 2 over-the-net pepper to finish warming-up from an attacking perspective.

I followed that with a bit of serving, some back row only Speedball Winners 3s, and then standard Winners 4s. The latter two both featured defined teams. For the standard Winners I added a requirement that teams must double block against a front row attack. My motivation there was to both work on blocking and to ensure the hitters were attacking in a somewhat realistic situation – at least from a block perspective. It took them a while, but eventually they got the blocking situation figured out.

I used about the last hour to run the 22 v 22 game to keep working on serve reception and development of the offense. We only got through 3 rotations, though, so the plan was to finish up with the other 3 on Tuesday when I knew we would again have 12 players.

I started off with an awkward 13 players for training, though one of my OHs was having some physical issues, so she ended up on limited duty (serving and some video). I started it off by splitting the setters and a libero out to working setting reps, and the rest to work on blocking movement as warm-ups. I then moved the MBs over to work with the setters and had the remaining hitters doing 3 v3 over-the-net pepper to continue their warm-up. After doing some serving, we finished the last 3 rotations from the 22 v 22 game the night before, then played one standard game to 25.

After training I addressed some things the players wanted to bring up with regards to how we want to play, getting in more focused serve reception work, and adding conditioning to training.

More focused serve reception work is something I’ve been thinking about in terms of dealing with the limits of space for serving when having multiple courts up. I think I have a solution for that, though.

I explained that adding conditioning to training (it was only one player asking for it) is not something I’m inclined to do separate from from what is achieved on the court since we only have 9-10 hours of training per week. I will, though, be adding pre-hab/prevention work at the start of all but our Monday trainings starting next week.

As for how we play in certain respects, I told them we’d walk through some things like defensive positioning at the start of Wednesday’s training. I also needed to make a decision about who takes the 2nd ball on a setter dig. That was something I put off until seeing how we were going to play defensively (libero in 5 or 6), which has now been decided (in 5).

Back to the core 10 players for this session. We started with a walk through of how I want the team to play defense in terms of the general system in the back court and the movement and placement of the blockers. We also sorted out who will take the second ball on a setter dig. As we talked about, though, all of this is subject to change based on opposition and how the team’s play evolves over time. We also talked about seam responsibility in serve receive. This is something we addressed before, but the players were using a mixture of approaches, so we needed to clear that up.

Following up on the serve reception, the active part of this training session involved a lot of it. I had them do a series of servers vs. passers games, had then play Speedball winners on a narrow court, and did a serve reception centered 5 v 5 game for the last part of the practice.

I took passing stats through all three activities. I know I missed a handful, but we still had more than 200 total receptions scored, 150 of which were passes by the OHs, OPPs, and liberos. That group collectively averaged just about 2.60 on a 4 point scale (4 = perfect, 3 = good, 2 = out-of-system, 1 = overpass, 0 = aced), though that doesn’t account for a couple of shared-fault aces. My primary libero candidate came in at 2.95, strongest in the group. Obviously, I’d like to see higher numbers, but we have some tough servers in the group, and I encourage aggressive serving in training, so I’m not panicking at this point.

This was the first session where I designated one main area of concentration for practice and developed everything to build in that direction (this is something I will do regularly from now on). My main focus in this training was on the offense, specifically with regards to creating advantageous attacking situations for our hitters (e.g. 1 v 1s, attacking seems, etc.). I had two additions for training, so a total of 12.

After having them do some 2-contact (dig-attack) over-the-net, first 1 v 1 and then 2 v 2, I split the group on two courts. The setters and MBs went to the side court while the main court was everyone else doing serving and passing. I had the middles go a couple times through with each setter running front and back quicks, then rotated through the OPPs and OHs in pairs to work on 1st and 2nd tempo attacks.

After the we shifted to just the main court. I had them play Winners 4s using defined teams. We went narrow court (roughly 2/3rds width) and I had them play 2 up, 2 back. The setter and either the MB or one of the 2 OHs (on on the team that had no MB) had to play front row and the hitter had to run front or back quicks, with one of the 2 back players also being a front row attacker.

From there we shifted to 6 v 6. The primary game was Bingo-Bango-Bongo, but after each successful big point scored, I mixed in a different game to give the MBs a break (only had 2). It was 5 v 5 game to 7 with the MBs alternating serves. There was an OH and OPP or Setter at the net, with three in the backrow.

We finished up with two regular games, but with bonus points. In this case, a team got an extra point for a front or back quick kill. They got a bonus point for a 1 v 1 attack on a set to one of the pins (regardless of whether a kill was registered), and +2 if they got a 1 v 0. Stuff blocks also earned a bonus point. I would have liked to have seen a few more, but bonus points were recorded for everything but the 1 v 0.

The team had a combination club briefing and team-building type of outing organized by the team manager this day. It started with a group team goal setting exercise and a discussion of club expectations (behavior, contribution, dress code, etc.). From there they went to a recording studio where they were recorded signing their own version of a popular song (this will no doubt get on YouTube at some point!). They finished up with a trip to a place that runs group/team challenges.

The players did not know in advance what they’d be doing at any point along the way. Aside from having to sit through the talk about club expectations, they had a lot of fun together.

Thoughts and observations
Friday’s training seemed to suffer from a dip in concentration and focus. There were times the serve reception was really bad, especially for one or two key players. I do credit the servers for giving them tough balls, but I could see looks on faces that told me players weren’t totally dialed at points. Up to now I’ve allowed the players to have music on during training. Moving forward, we’ll only have that during the warm-up phase. I don’t know if that will impact focus at all, but it’s more game-like, so it’s a move I need to make anyway as we get ready for our first pre-season match on Saturday.

Other stuff
We had an OH from the 2013-14 team in train three of this week’s sessions. She did not play last season, but we’ve been hoping to get her back. The issue is transportation, which the club is trying to sort out. She was a bit rusty in her first training on Monday, and had a little bit of a physical issue, but as the week went on she her quality became apparent. It would be good to have another strong pin hitter – in training, if nothing else.

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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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