There was a player in the Midwestern State squad when I first visited campus in early February 2016 who could not hit a down ball or a back row attack to save her life. I mean she literally did not have the skill.

I found out later the cause of this problem. Her high school coach never let her hit.

I will grant you that she was pretty tiny. It must have been obvious from early on that hitting and blocking weren’t going to be her thing. Genetics put her clearly into the libero/defensive specialist category.

I get that a coach probably isn’t going to have her spend much time in hitting drills and the like. But to not have her even learn how to do a good down ball? Come on! That’s criminal in my book. It’s specialization gone crazy.

First of all, even tiny little defenders sometimes need to use that skill. Heck, sometimes they can even attack the ball outright from the back row – even if they’re libero at the time. So there’s a very clear volleyball reason to teach every player to hit from either standing or jumping.

More importantly, part of what we must do as coaches is instill a love of the game in our players. That’s a whole lot easier to do when you actually let them play!

And this applies to players in other positions as well. Let your setters block. Include your middles in defensive training. Give your pin hitters the opportunity to set. You never know when being able to whip a non-specificity skill out will make the difference between winning and losing.

Being more well-rounded makes players better. It gives them a deeper appreciation of the game and all it entails. It also makes it more fun for them, and that means they may stick with the sport longer.

So please let them just be players instead of positions sometimes.

And don’t put your own limits on their development.

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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 "Let them play!"

    • Oliver Wagner

      Talking about the excesses of specialization it seems to be a special NCAA (women’s side of the game) problem. Everywhere else on this planet players have to be more complete then here. Won’t you agree?

      • John Forman

        I definitely agree Oliver. The large number of available substitutions with unlimited entries allows college coaches to take hitters out of the back row in favor of defensive specialists. It also allows them to run a sub-based 6-2 where you swap setters and opposites every three rotations. I definitely ran into this issue when evaluating prospective OH signings for Svedala last Summer. How could I bring in a player to play 6 rotations who rarely, if ever, played back row in her college career?

    • Michael J Borga

      Let them play ……………………………………………………… Beach or Grass Doubles!

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