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

Conference time!

The coaches voted in the conference pre-season poll a few weeks back. I actually had my assistant do it, since I wasn’t around and thus don’t really know much about the programs. The results came out on Monday, with the ranking as follows:

  1. Geneva College
  2. Penn State Behrend
  3. Penn State Altoona
  4. Hiram College
  5. Medaille College
  6. Thiel College
  7. Saint Vincent College
  8. Hilbert College

After seeing some of the pre-conference action, my assistant said he wished he could have his ballot back. 😀


I started this session with a talk about the prior match against Daemen – what we did well and where we want to get better. Generally speaking, I think we all agreed that block and defense is an area for improvement. I’d already planned on making that a focus for this session.

Since we were 8 for the session, I did some 3 v 5 and 4 v 4 offense vs. defense situations. The first few were with balls initiated to the offensive side. I later did a variation where the offense side receive a serve, then after that rally ended the defensive side had a ball tossed to the libero to set one of the pins. During all of this stuff my main focus was on block and defensive positioning and decision-making.

We finished with a 25-point game of back row 4 v 4 to let the guys compete a bit heading into Tuesday’s match.


As I mentioned previously, we added a home match against D’Youville on this date just in case our Saturday match didn’t come off. It’s also protection against another match getting cancelled somewhere down the line. We could have probably played Daemen again, but I didn’t feel like that would add much value. Playing D’Youville so close after having played Daemen allows us to apply the lessons we learned in that match.

Definitely not our best performance. I came into this match wondering if the guys would have the right mentality given they’d already beaten this team, had a good performance in their prior one, and were playing at home. As it turns out, they didn’t.

We went down 11-6 in the first set, and really didn’t narrow that margin much until late on. We were down 24-20, managed to get to 24-23, but couldn’t get that last point to tie it up. Interestingly, we outhit them .471 to .376, but actually had 2 fewer kills. Set 2 was nip-and-tuck throughout. Neither team got ahead by more than 2 points at any stage. We had three cracks at set point at 24-23, 25-24, and 26-25 but couldn’t seal the deal. In the end we lost 29-27. The final set was never really close. We went down 9-2 and never got the lead down to less than 3 on the way to losing 25-16. They only needed 8 kills to win the set, if you can believe it.

It was one of those types of performances that give coaches sleepless nights. I definitely had one after that.


Because one of the guys decided to not believe what he read on the calendar and assumed we’d have the day off, so decided to get in a some extra hours at his job, we only had 8 for the session. And because our start time was earlier than usual due to a basketball game, another guy was late arriving from his job. This wasn’t an ideal circumstance by any stretch.

Having in particular identified off-blocker defending and block positioning as areas for improvement, we did a lot of hitters vs. blockers exercises. To make sure the off-blockers were getting defensive opportunities, I instructed the hitters to mainly focus on tipping into their defensive areas of responsibility and hitting off the block.

I finished off with a 4 v 4 game. It was back row attack focused, but they were allowed to hit front row on a perfect (3) pass or dig. My intention was to create more digging opportunities so we can get better making those plays.


This remains a non-practicing day because there’s just no availability in the guys’ schedules to get even most of the group together. As a result, I’ve dubbed it video day. This was our first one where I sat down with guys – either in my office or over Zoom – to go over stuff. Partly it was self-analysis. Partly it was scouting for Saturday’s match.

Toward the end of the day I found out that our upcoming match with Hilbert needed to be postponed because of a covid issue on their end. We worked out that it will be rescheduled for March 29th.


Had all the guys at practice that were due to be available for the match on Saturday. Since one of those guys is the MB who was out for a week, I focused mainly on the reception rotations where I expected him to play front row. Basically, I did 4 v 4 offense vs. defense off serve receive, isolating parts of the court.


Hiram at home was the first AMCC fixture for us. They were an interesting opponent as they play a substitution based 6-2 like you sometime see in the women’s game. This is possible in Division III where, unlike Divison I/II on the men’s side, doesn’t stick to the FIVB style 6-substitution limit. They’d played a couple of pre-conference matches, so we got a good opportunity to scout them.

The MB I’d previously moved to OPP – though who had to play MB the last two matches because of that other MBs being out – missed this one due to a wedding. So that kept the line-up structure I used in those prior matches largely in place. I just made a middle adjustment.

The match started with a fairly lengthy opening rally, which had me thinking it could be a fun one. Neither team got a lot going offensively (we hit .028, them 0.079), a we managed to squeek out a 25-23 win. Their offense stepped it up in the second set to hit .316, while we continued to scuffle with too many errors. The guys were having a hard time dealing with their big block. We dropped that one 25-17 to even things up.

The third set was relatively close midway through. Unfortunately, then my libero-turned-OH went down with an injury. That forced us to have to put our 5’6″ serving sub/defensive player in his place. As you can imagine, it’s was pretty much sharply down hill from there. The guys put up a fight, but it was 25-15, 25-16 to finish.

Looking ahead

It’s all conference all the time from now until at least April 3rd – one more week after that if we qualify for the conference tournament. That requires a top 4 finish in the regular season. We’re due to play each Wednesday and Saturday until then. Though that was jumbled up by Hilbert having to postpone. As a result, we only have a Saturday match this week at Saint Vincent. That’ll be our first road trip of the season.

At this point I don’t know the long-term status for the guy who was injured. When we have everyone available he’s our #1 libero. We’ll have to see if he can return in that role at some point or not. I also have a middle with an iffy knee. We really can’t afford anyone else missing time at this stage.

6 Steps to Better Practices - Free Guide

Subscribe to my weekly newsletter today and get this free guide to making your practices the best, along with loads more coaching tips and information.

No spam ever. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

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.