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

Here’s how things went over the third week of pre-season:

Had 11 players for this session. I started things off a bit slowly with variations on Serving & Passing 3s & 4s for the pin hitters and liberos, with the setters and middles doing an over-the-net pepper followed by a quick set tip exchange exercise. I instructed the passers to focus on their platforms. From there we moved on to play two rounds of Player Winners on half courts, and then full-court back row Winners 3s with fixed setters, to prepare the team for the game play to come.

Continuing on from the offensive work on creating mismatches, I next had the team play a game where the first ball had to either be a front/back quick or a bick (fast pipe). It was initiated with a free ball sent over by the opposite team, then they played out the rally. After working through all the OHs (and the OPPs) running the bick, I shifted things over to serve receive based play, with the back row players taking turns serving twice, to allow us to work both on serve reception passing and developing the offense from there.

Just the core 10 for this training. I started it off with two times through a 6-station prehab/prevention, which is something I’ll be doing on Tuesdays and Fridays. Ideally, I’d do it each time out, but Monday’s session is too short (2 hours total) and the team does lifting basically right before training on Wednesday. I’m going to need to be creative to keep things interesting as the equipment I have available is limited.

After giving them a chance to warm their shoulders up, I had them play a couple of games of Amoeba Serving. That served as a warm up for a serving and passing drill. It featured the pin hitters and liberos as the servers and passers (3 of each), with the setters and middles working on quicks off the passes. The goal for the 3 active passers was 15 successful quick attacks. I took passing stats through the drill.

As a hitting warm-up for the pin hitters, and general playing preparation for everyone, I then had them go Speedball Winners 2s with fixed setters (4 teams of 2). I scored the passing in that drill as well.

From there things shifted to the Hitter Tourney game, though I included middle blockers. I didn’t score the serve reception passing there, but I did in the Points for Passes game I had them play after that. Training finished with each side doing a 2 minute Scramble. In this case, though, we kept track of points for the scrambling team to make it a competitive game.

In terms of the passing, each of the primary passing candidates (pin hitters and liberos) around 20 scored receptions in total. Overall, the numbers were not fantastic, but not horrible either. There was a definite improvement when shifting to passing in games rather than in the serving & passing drill. The two main starting OH candidates had the strongest numbers, though only marginally. The team manager made the observation that they are still sorting out how to pass together. They are doing a good job of communicating seams pre-serve. His point had more to do with things like their starting depth and pre-serve movement. This, of course, is exactly the sort of thing I’m allowing them to work through by doing a lot of serve-initiated games and drills.

Again, had the core 10. This was the last training of the week with the two young players who will be off to Sweden U19 camp for the weekend. I hadn’t intended this session to be anything really conditioning oriented, but it kind of worked out that way. I think the fact that the team did weight training prior combined with some general fatigue (potentially a cumulative thing) saw the player tire more quickly than expected.

The session wasn’t designed to be particularly hard, but a team pepper (basically an all-angle version of cross-court hitting) from the ball-handling warm-up part of the session went a bit longer than anticipated. I followed that with a 5 vs 5 version of 22 v 22, with 3 players in the back row (including the MBs) and 2 pin players at the net. I then had them finish with a 4 v 6 game where the team of 4 served every ball and received a free ball after the initial rally. I had the players switch around about midway through.

Neither of the games were really as focused on serve reception the way I wanted, but having spoken with the players at the start of the session about it I could see them continuing to work out positioning, seems, etc. between themselves. That was really the purpose, so from that perspective it was OK.

My American setter actually thanked me after the 4 v 6 for the additional work on transition (particularly with respect to the 4 side), saying she was happy to get more work in that phase to sort through a few things. It’s definitely not like we’ve left out transition work since we’re constantly in full rally situations, but we haven’t done any specific free ball stuff. The funny thing is I had something specifically planned along those lines for Friday.

We were down our two young Swedish players (S and MB) who were heading off to the Sweden U19 camp looking to be selected for the team playing in the NEVZA Championships next month. We had two additions to training in the form of last year’s MB captain and a young guest setter who’s trained with us a few times, to get back up to 10. I wanted to have 12 for some proper 6 v 6 action before Saturday’s first pre-season match, but one player was recovering from illness and another wasn’t available.

After doing a pre-hab/prevention circuit, I had them do some 2-touch partner pepper over the net as a ball-handling warm-up. I then had the MBs and Setters working on one court while the pin hitters and libero did serving and passing on the other. We followed that up with a 5 v 5 version of Baseball where the MBs played back row only (2 up, 3 back). After that we moved to a 6 v 4 similar to what we played on Wednesday. We did all 6 rotations. Interestingly, Rotation 1 (setter in position 1) was the only one where the 6-person team dominated. The rest of the rotations were fairly competitive.

We ended up only going about 2 hours. I didn’t want to push it too hard considering I wasn’t going to be able to sub MBs or the Setter on Saturday. Also, they’d looked somewhat fatigued all week. I did, though, address some instances of a lack of focus – which may have been fatigue related.

The match was against one of our closer geographic rivals, Gislaved – a team we’ll see 4 times in league play this season. It took place at a gym that I understand is about midway between the two clubs, though they were the hosts. I think they did a training in the morning before the match, which started at about 13:15.

I decided to play everyone in every set. That meant rotating the three available OHs and using the non-starter as a sub mid-set for one time across either the front or back row. Same with the two OPPs.

Things started off strongly, with us siding out first ball on perhaps the initial half dozen serves (or most of them anyway) of the first set. Unfortunately, they also sided out each time as well. We were pretty close until midway through, then had a couple of bad rotations and lost 25-15. Failures in serve reception were the main culprit.

The second set followed a similar course. Passing was a little better, but we continued to be lacking on defense and made too many errors. We lost 25-20. I confess that while watching balls drop in the second set I was starting to think about having to work on individual defense and wondering if my shoulder could stand up to banging balls at them.

A combination of some subs by the other team, better passing, more consistent hitting, and more aggressive defense led us to dominate the third set and win 25-18. The case was similar in the 4th set, but when were were up 21-17 we got stuck in a rotation and let them get back to even. We ended up winning 25-23. I should note, they put their better players back in when they realized they were getting pounded. The deciding set ended up being more of the same as we won 15-10.

All in all, I’d have to call it a pretty good initial outing. We had success, but with enough specific struggles to point clearly to areas where we need to be better, more focused, etc.

Thoughts and observations
Saturday’s match confirmed what I already suspect in that we’ve got an offense that can definitely score points. When we pass well we put the opposing team under a lot of pressure, and that was with fill-in MB who isn’t as strong in the attack as the one missing (though is perhaps a better blocker at this point). It also confirmed that we’re a bit inconsistent with the passing, which is something that will continue to be a developmental need.

The biggest thing I hope the players took away from the match was in terms of defensive mentality. They need to be fully committed and attacking the ball, not passive. I think they started to see it after those first two sets, but it’s something I’m going to strongly reinforce moving forward. One of the things that needs to get sorted out is why our setter was digging so many balls in certain situations.

Other stuff
While we won’t have her full time, last year’s captain MB will be in the squad for the season. She filled in on Saturday, says she can training once a week (she’s doing beach training 3 nights) and can fill in as needed in matches (and expects to at least make it to the home matches). That at least gives us some cover in that position.

The OH from two seasons ago we’ve been hoping to have return looks to be ready to do just that. Illness kept her out of action from most of the week, but she’s definitely someone we can use. She’ll compete for starting time and is a very effective server.

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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.

    3 replies to "Coaching Log – Sep 21, 2015"

    • David Cranch

      Morning John, are your 2 x U19’s going to be in the Swedish NEVZA squad ?

      • John Forman

        I haven’t received word yet. From what I’ve heard, though, both have good odds of being selected. Not sure when the decision will be announced, if it hasn’t been already. Maybe I’ll find out at training this evening.

      • John Forman

        The two players told us last night they were selected.

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