Dynamic volleyball practice planning

In an ideal world, we volleyball coaches would always know exactly which players we’ll have in training every single time. And while we’re asking for wishes, we’d always have perfectly divisible numbers.

Alas, the reality is often quite different. We need to adapt on the fly because we don’t have everyone in practice for whatever reason. This can significantly impact the drills and games we’re able to employ.

Rigid vs. Adaptive Planning

I come from a school of coaching thought which very much involves planning out practices. The first coach I worked under was a planning manager in her day job. Not surprisingly, she very much liked to work from a defined training outline. We generally scripted practices down to the minute. The coaches I worked under at the NCAA Division I level were not that precise. They definitely wrote down a sequence of drills and games to be used for that training, though. Practice was done when all the drills were completed.

As a head coach I have often been in a situation with constrained and well-defined practice time slots : 90 minutes, 2 hours, etc. That makes it hard to think in open-ended terms. The result is that while I tend to not use a rigid plan, I do still develop a list of drills, etc. with an eye toward how long they will take. I need to make sure I can fit in everything I want to do that session.

I know, however, there are coaches out there who favor a much more dynamic approach. This style of coaching can develop when you rarely know what you’ll have in the gym for any given session. They don’t walk into the gym with a defined plan. If they do it right, however, they have a set of priorities for the day’s training.

Being a dynamic pre-planner coach

Even those of us who like to plan things out, though, have to be ready to change course. We may not have the players on-hand to do what we originally wanted. Alternatively, sometimes things don’t play out quite as expected. That means we have to be adaptable and able to do things on the fly.

Being a good dynamic coach requires having a fairly broad working selection of drills and games you can plug in as needed. Perhaps more importantly, though, it requires mental flexibility. You have to be able to answer the question, “What can I do with the players on-hand to focus on my priority here?” That may mean using a different drill, such as shifting from a serving & passing drill which requires a dozen players to one which can be done with fewer. It can mean modifying a drill to accommodate the absence of certain player, such as taking the transition from back row out of a drill which normally would have a starting setter in it but now will have to feature your opposite doing the setting. Alternatively, it could mean re-purposing a game by changing the scoring system to prioritize what you want.

If you’re not the sort of coach who can easily shift gears on the fly – which can be something that comes with experience – you can still be dynamic with your training by having a contingency plan. All that requires is thinking about what you would need to do if you have fewer players, are missing a certain key player, or whatever other hurdles your plan may face. This takes more time, obviously, but it will let you make adjustments at the start of training so you can run things smoothly.

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John most recently coached for an NCAA Division II women's team. That followed a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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