This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2020-21 season.

Last week was both the first week back to school at Medaille College and also the first week the men’s volleyball team was able to return to training. That started on Tuesday with testing. All non-residential athletes, my two assistants, and myself had to take the rapid tests at 7:30am (residential athletes were tested upon moving back into the dorms).

For the first 7 days we have an every-other-day schedule. This is a feature of the NCAA re-socialization protocol for returning to play. Given that none of the guys have played anything more than a bit of Sunday volleyball since March, the plan was to build things up gradually. It will be 4 weeks from our first practice to our first match, then another 2+ until our scheduled initial conference match.

Wednesday (7-9pm)

We only had 4 guys available for this session. One guy had to work. Our grad student was short a class to be considered full-time. Another was awaiting post-COVID clearance. We also had 1-2 guys yet to take their COVID tests, so they obviously weren’t available either.

One of the 4 was a freshman that’s sort of been on and off our roster. He plays both volleyball and baseball (NY plays boys’ volleyball in the Fall). It went back and forth for a while whether he was going to be with us, with Baseball, or maybe trying to do both. It looked like Baseball won out. Knowing we were going to start training before Baseball this term, and needing some bodies for practice, I reached out to him about at least just coming to train with us for a couple of weeks. He played MB in high school and club, which is always a useful position to have some depth in.

Although we had 2 hours, I didn’t use it all. Partly that was because one of the guys had to leave for work about an hour in. As much as that, though, I didn’t want to push things to far. You can really tire out a small group in a short period of time – especially when their conditioning level is so low! Here’s what I ended up doing.

Friday (5-7pm)

We managed to get our number up to 5 for this session, as our grad student finally got his class added. The session followed a generally similar pattern to the prior one. We started with stabilization activities, when went into blocking and block-to-transition footwork. We’ll be doing a bunch of that to refine their technique and smooth out the rough patches.

From there we went into a similar 2 v 2 cooperative dig to controlled attack exercise. This time, though, we had a setter that flipped from side to side. That let both of the 2s attack. I rotated them around so everyone played in all 5 spots. This was followed by Flip-Switch to work on serve and pass. They actually picked up how that drill works pretty quickly.

After giving them a couple minutes to jump work on aggressive serves (no targets, just let it rip) we spent the last part of the session playing 2 v 2 with the libero in the group setting for whichever team was in reception at the moment. This was a narrow court game (half width) to stimulate a bit more control and a few more rallies.

After an initial warm-up kind of phase we played three games to three big points wash style. A team earned a big point by winning both the initial serve rally, then a second ball that was fed in to the serving team. The initial game was back row attacks only. The second allowed front row attacking. In the final one I shift the guys so they were playing on the other side of the court – meaning we went from playing Left vs Right to Right vs Left.

With the limited numbers and still viewing things in build-up phase, I didn’t want to use the full 2 hour block. We finished about 1 hour and 45 minutes in after stretching.

After practice some of the guys and a couple of the women’s players watched the Penn State-Ohio State men’s match.

Sunday (10-12am)

We were up to a whopping 6 guys for this session. Would have been 7, but one had to work. The progression followed a similar path in terms of starting with stabilization exercises, doing some blocking footwork, and then moving into more complex activities. We finally had our setter available, so during the blocking part I had him working on faster (Go) tempo sets to the pin. Speeding up the offense is a major focus point for us this season.

After blocking, I had the guys do some block to attack transition swinging. First it was a warming up then. Then I added in a block. Everything was through Position 4 to keep working on the Go sets. We then did the cooperative dig-to-attack exercise. It featured 3 to a side. The set from the dig could go right or left, but the attacks had to be cross-court.

From there, they did a little serving to prep before progressing to a modified version of Flip-Switch. Since we had 6, I kept the setter in as target the whole time and let the 5th be a hitter. Pins work on Go’s. Middles went either 1 or Shoot, depending on the pass.

The session wrapped up with some narrow-court 3 v 3.

Takeaways

One of the things that was clearly apparent was our need to avoid spectating and get on with what we had to do. For example, a hitter who isn’t taking the first ball transitioning rather than watching the other player make the pass.

I also wasn’t particularly pleased with our drop in focus, and some poor body language, toward the end of Sunday’s session. I actually cut it short as a result. It could have been a simple function of fatigue, but I’m definitely keeping an eye on it.

Lots of other stuff to work on, of course.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Men's & Women's Head Volleyball Coach at Medaille College, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy (formerly Charleston Academy). His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

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