Volleyball players play volleyball because they love to play volleyball. Sometimes it gets boring just playing in practice, though. A coach asked the following in an online group.

What happens when your kids are so totally bored from just scrimmaging against each other that you cannot get 100% and you just feel you’re not getting anywhere?

I’ve commented in prior posts about how I struggle to just do straight up game play in practice. While it definitely has value, often it isn’t enough intensity for me. I don’t mean the players don’t give full effort. I mean the pace is slow. Since conditioning is something we have to consider in how we do things, I often want to up the tempo.

But that’s not the only thing. Simple game play is pretty random. It doesn’t have a specific focus. And since we should always have something specific we’re working on, that’s a significant drawback.

So how do we make things more interesting and exciting?

Increase the tempo

When I coached in England we often upped the tempo by simply requiring the server to sprint to the line after a rally ended. That reduced some of the down time. Think of it kind of like speed golf. Of course, we had the “benefit” of a small gym, so there wasn’t far to go – or to chase down the ball.

The most common way to up the tempo is to introduce a new ball once the rally is over. This is the basis for a lot of wash games. The Second Chance concept works on the basis of additional balls, as well. And at the extreme end there’s something like Scramble.

Alter the scoring

I mentioned wash games above in the context of increasing tempo with additional balls. They are, obviously, also an alternative forming of scoring. Changing how teams score points gives players something different to think about than simple rally scoring. So too does introducing bonus points. And don’t forget process-based scoring where the focus isn’t so much on outcomes, but on doing things the right way.

Change up the game structure

Another way to keep things interesting for the players is to mix up the structure of the game. An example of this is having the losing team serve rather than the winning team. You can definitely mix up how you initiate rallies based on your training focus. And the same can apply to where you have the first ball go (e.g. attacking at the setter so the libero has to take 2nd ball). Maybe you rule a certain part of the court out (e.g. Zone 6 in attack).

What do you want to accomplish?

Ultimately, how you run your games in practice should be a function of what you want them to accomplish. Changing up how you initiate rallies lets you control (at least to a degree) how often something you want to focus on gets work. Changing the scoring incentivizes the players to do what you want (or not do what you don’t want). Altering game structure can work in both directions. As long as you don’t make things too complicated, you’ll give the players all kinds of new challenges while still keeping them in a basic game-play structure.

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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.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.