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

It finally happened! First week of real practices. I should note that along with having to wear masks at all times, the players were supposed to maintain social distancing on the court. Mainly, that means I could not set something up where there would be front row attackers facing a block (or there being any multi-player blocking).


The first practice was a thin one. Only six of the eight guys were cleared, and one of them couldn’t make it because of work. That one is our setter. As a result, this wasn’t a session where I could work on my big focus – offensive system development. Basically, it was a session for me to see a bit of what I’m working with in general terms.

I had the guys start off with some target serving. That gave me a chance to start talking about some focus points. It also warmed up shoulders and legs (though they’d already been playing around before we started).

The second exercise took up the bulk of the time. I set them up in a half court, cross-court structure. On one side there was a front row setter with a front row pin and a back row defender/attacker. The other side was the same, without the setter. Basically, I tossed a ball in to one side or the other and they played out a rally. We went through a cart full of balls (call it 25), then did a ball retrieval/water break and rotated. So everyone played all 5 positions. Obviously, setting and attacking was more complicated for the 2-man side. This was high tempo and the guys definitely struggled with their breathing with the masks.

The last exercise – about 15 minutes – was something I made up to fit the numbers. At it’s core it was 2 v 2 back row attacking game on about a 2/3rds width court (no blocking). The 5th player was the server on one of the sides. If the serving team won the rally, everyone “bumped” such that the other side now had the extra player to serve. If the receiving team won (including on a missed serve), both sides rotated on their side.

As is often the case with new game concepts, this one had its rough patches. Under other circumstances I would probably want a higher tempo, but given what we’d just done, I was fine with the slower pace in this instance. It gave me a chance to see some serve reception, which was the real objective. If I do it again, I’ll probably add a scoring element.


Only five in practice again, this time because one of our middles had to go into quarantine pending results from a covid test because of suspected close contact the night before. My main focus for the session was the timing of tempo sets to the pins and pipe, so missing a middle wasn’t a huge issue – especially with no blocking allowed. The extra body would have offered a bit of extra structural flexibility, though.


Just four players at this session – the setter, the two liberos, and the middle not in isolation. I started them off with a quick game of short-court 2-touch 2v2, then introduced them to the Brazilian 2-player, 2-ball volleytennis (though without any team rotation).

I wanted to get some serve receive into this session while also letting the setter get some reps. That started with the middle serving to the two liberos passing half a court with me as a target for the setter. To get some middle/setter connection reps in, I then had the liberos each spend time serving to each other to build everything off a pass.

In the last segment I gave the liberos a chance to work on setting the middle on setter-out situations. I started with the setter serving one of the liberos in 1 to replicate the setter taking first ball. If the pass was good enough, the libero in 5 had to set a quick ball to the middle running a shoot (31). After a while I rotated the setter in to take the first ball in 1.

Looking forward

I’m very likely going to have to carry on with these sorts of sessions as I’m unlikely to ever have more than 5-6 players. As much as I might like to be incorporating some more game-oriented elements, though, these sessions will let me start establishing some principles in what I’m after.

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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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