I had a follow-up question to my post on differences in training varsity vs JV (1st vs 2nd) teams.

To what extent does one coach players for a specific position (e.g setter, hitter, libero) rather than rotate players into different positions, and is there a difference between coaching V and JV in this area?

Broadly speaking, players tend to be pretty well set in their positions by the time they reach varsity. This is especially true for smaller schools where the talent pool isn’t so deep. At bigger schools there may be more scope to try players in different positions. This is particularly the case earlier in the season when you’re trying to figure out the best line-up.

At the junior varsity (JV) level you can, and should, experiment more. This is especially true if your players don’t have a lot of prior experience. But even if they have, it’s worth seeing what they can do in different positions. Hopefully, they didn’t overly specialize as youngsters before you even get them!

Training vs playing

Here’s an area of coaching where I have a major issue with some high school and juniors coaches.

It’s one thing to specialize a kid in a given position for playing in your team. It’s another to entirely specialize their training.

Let me explain.

What I’m talking about is training a player only very narrowly because they occupy a certain position. Think about the middle who never receives serve or plays any defense in practice. Or the defensive specialist who never learned how to hit a ball. Their coach only ever let them train a very narrow set of skills.

This is bad for two reasons. The first is immediate in that you never know when a player will need non-position-specific skills in a match. That MB I mentioned above might have to play defense some time, and that DS may need to hit a ball one day. If they don’t learn those skills in practice then chances are they will cost you points in a game situation. Also, by training players in skills outside their main position you may develop some options you can use – like having an MB or OPP who can receive serve and thus give you more options in reception.

The second reason is you’re failing the kid.

Don’t be that coach

The thing I see that really makes me sad is the player who was clearly put in a certain position because of their physical attributes and not allowed to develop other skills. Think the tall kid who plays middle or right side as the most obvious example.

I understand that on the team in question that might be the best position for them. The coach’s first responsibility is the current team. I get that. At the youth sports level, though, the coach also has a responsibility to think about players’ longer-term prospects.

I’ve seen a whole bunch of teams where they have a 5’8″ MB playing the position because she’s clearly the best suited in her team of shorties. But what are the chances of her playing that position in college at her size? Not very good – at least not at the level she might aspire to in a different position. As her coach you need to understand that (especially since she might not) and find ways to train her in one or more other positions.

If all you do is train her to be a MB, and don’t let her develop her other skills, you are failing that kid.

Don’t let yourself get locked in

One last consideration in this discussion is the idea of mental flexibility. I’m talking about for you as the coach. Realize you don’t have to be rigid in how you use your players. In fact, going in a different direction might be the way to go to maximize team performance.

For example, you don’t have to use a libero for your MBs. I coached two extremely successful teams where I didn’t do that. In one case the libero only came in for one of the middles. In the other my two MBs were such good back row players that I used the libero in place of the OPP instead.

There are other ways you might want to think outside the box as well, I described a couple of these times when talking about setting out of the middle and running a 3-middle offense.

If you develop more well-rounded players you have more opportunities to be creative with your line-ups.

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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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