Coaching Log – November 6, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

Most of the prior week Lone Star Conference results were fairly predictable. Interestingly, however, West Texas earned home wins over both Tarleton and Angelo. The latter was probably not a major surprise given how poorly Angelo has done on the road this year. Tarleton, though, has looked quite dominant. Commerce beat Kingsville at home, but the latter picked up a win at Texas Woman’s. Woman’s also played a couple of non-conference matches on Saturday. Unfortunately for the conference, Woman’s lost a 5-set match to one of them. Not a good loss.

The results leave the standings looking like this.

Our 13 overall wins is better than the 12 we recorded last year. Further, we’ve reached the 6 LSC wins we accumulated in 2016. That was enough to reach last year’s conference tournament, but obviously it won’t be this year’s edition. To start the week, we had five LSC matches left to make a move, including three this week. We’re done with the New Mexico schools, but had both Texas Woman’s and Angelo ahead, along with Cameron below us.

I figured we need at least two wins, maybe three. Eastern NM had a very winnable match vs. UTPB on Tuesday, but the rest of their schedule featured Angelo and Tarleton away, plus Commerce at home. A win in any of those would be a surprise result. The key match was looking like home vs. Texas Woman’s. TW won the first time around, 3-1.

UTPB is also on the remaining schedule for TW, which seems a likely win. Along with having to go to Eastern NM, they also faced a trip to Western NM. Not good odds for a win there. A home match vs. West Texas is an unknown quantity. WT has some good wins, but their performance away from home hasn’t been very good.

Monday

As usual, we started with the team going over some of the stats from the week prior. Our serve receive passing was a major positive. Of course, we also had to go over some of the less positives. That dovetailed into some video review. We went over two parts of recent matches. One was the second half of the 3rd set against Western, starting when we were up 17-14 through to the 23-25 finish. The other was the 4th set against Eastern. We watched from when we went up 17-11 through to the 25-23 conclusion. The idea was to look at our breakdown points with an eye toward being better in those situations. After that we did a review of our last match against Tuesday’s opposition.

The actual practice only went about an hour. Most of it was dedicated to serve reception to attack, which we’ve done a lot of lately. It started with just serving to a receiving group going up against some block. We eventually shifted to playing out rallies. Much of our focus was on expanding our options in Rotation 1.

Tuesday

We made our final conference road trip of the season to Texas Woman’s. As you can see from the standings, they were just one match ahead of us going in. A win would pull us level. Also, it would give us the edge against Woman’s as the first tiebreak is head-to-head (the recent win at Eastern ensured we also held the tiebreak against them).

Things definitely didn’t go as we’d have hoped. Our offense did quite well. We hit .269 overall, with both MBs, our OPP, and one of our OHs coming in at .300 or better. Unfortunately, our defense didn’t match that. We allowed TW to hit .310 overall. In two of the four sets played we allowed them to register 20+ kills!

Needless to say, the loss put us in a big hole in our quest to qualify for the LSC tournament.

Wednesday

The first set of Division II volleyball regional rankings for 2017 were published. The Lone Star Conference is part of the South Central Region. Not surprisingly, Midwestern State is not in the Top-10. If you scroll down to the bottom you’ll see a list of links to the PDF files for each Region. They are the complete rankings based on the RPI of each team. We currently sit at #14.

Before practice we showed the team a 5-minute video made up of photos from the season thus far. A lot of them were taken during the Buenos Aires trip. It was a reminder of how far we’ve come and all the work everyone has put in. We felt the team could use something like that after the disappointment of the prior evening’s match.

Practice featured a lot of serving. We felt our serves against TW failed to hit our targets well enough. We also did a lot of hitting into a defense with either no block or just a single one. Our middles struggled to close during the match, so we wanted to work on our defense playing in that kind of situation.

Thursday

We had a 2019 prospect in for a bit of a tryout with the the team. A little early perhaps, but a player the head coach wanted to see in our context.

Practice was heavy game play. We started with a competitive version of cooperative cross-court hitting. The idea was in particular to work on defense in a 1-block or no-block situation. We progressed on that team by then shifting to 5 v 5, as we did on Wednesday, with two pin hitters up and three defenders back.

The final game was a wash drill. In this case, the team that won the service rally earned the right to defend against a right side attack. If they won that second rally (initiated by a free ball), they earned the big point. Initially, we didn’t put any additional requirement on things. I didn’t like that the defending team knew the right side attack was coming, though. Too easy for them to put up a solid block. We eventually shifted and said they could only single block that first ball. It would probably have been better if we did something to encourage a right side attack, but not require it to make things a bit more realistic.

Friday

We hosted conference leaders Tarleton and national #14 this evening. Unlike the rest of the conference, they did not have a Tuesday match.

If you told me ahead of time that we’d lose 3-1 I would not have been surprised at the result given the opposition. The path to that result proved unexpected, however. We didn’t start well. Very mental. No composure. We forgot the things we’d just talked about in our scouting. Our serving was much too easy. More playing not to lose than playing to win.

Our starting setter came down on a foot early during the 2nd set, spraining her ankle. That meant we had to insert our 3rd setter, as our 2nd is out for the season after breaking a finger a few weeks back. As you may recall, our 3rd setter had her own injury issue not long ago thanks to a concussion.

In sports you sometimes see a team rally when a key player goes down. That definitely happened in this case. The team energy went up. Our defense became very focused, likely because they now had to defend behind a smaller block (not that our starting setter is overly tall either). We ended up playing some of the best defense of the season. We did not get our normal 2+ blocks per set (finished with just 3), but we averaged 22 digs per set. It helped us rally back late to win the 3rd set.

We could not hold on to that edge, though. That was thanks in large part to Tarleton playing some of the most ridiculously good defense I’ve ever seen. We attacked aggressively, but they seemed to get a hand on everything. Bodies were flying all over the place to make saves.

Just to make things even more interesting, our 3rd setter took a blow to the face at one point. That had us looking around for who we could possibly have set. Fortunately, it didn’t turn out to be serious.

Saturday

It was #23 Angelo coming to town for an early start. We normally play at 2:00 on Saturdays, but because of other events we had to shift it to a noon start. Angelo hosted Kingsville on Tuesday, winning 3-0, then played at Cameron on Friday where they won in four.

We got off to a good start, working our way out to a 16-9 lead in the first set. Pretty much from there, though, it was all down hill. We did a good job limiting their top hitter, but we couldn’t do much about the rest of them. Definitely not the same level of defensive performance as what we put together on Friday. Our serve reception had periods of struggle. The result was a definite struggle to generate much in the way of attack.

Coaching Log – October 30, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

Many of the Lone Star Conference teams played three matches last week, so lots of results to potentially impact the standings. The most interesting result was probably Angelo beating Commerce 3-0. Here’s how the standings were to start the new week.

Ninth place is just outside the conference tournament places, so we need to make a move. Given the congestion in the standings, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for a team to make a big move in a short time. Obviously, making the tournament is most important, but we’d rather avoid a repeat of last season. We went in as the 8th seed, meaning a first round match up against then #1 Angelo, who hosted the tournament. Tarleton is looking favorite to host this year, and we’ve already played them at their place once.

Monday

After the busy weekend of play, we gave the players the day off from practice. They did lift in the morning, but otherwise we just reviewed video. That started with our normal weekly stats discussion. The interesting observation we made was that our transition hitting numbers were not very good. This was a surprise as we did well in that phase of the game earlier in the season.

In terms of the video review, we began with a review of our home match vs. Western NM. It was one of the real disappointments of the first round. We lost despite earning 15 more points than them by way of kills, aces, and blocks. Watching the match was a combination of refreshing our memory about an upcoming opponent and reinforcing how much better we have played in recent matches.

After watching that video all together, we split the team into groups to watch more recent footage. The middles and setters, pin hitters, and liberos/DSs each watched a set from a different match. They then all came back together to share their observations.

Tuesday

This was our last training Tuesday of the regular season as we have matches on the remaining ones. Back to the split groups. The focus remained on our attack, with a combination of in-system and out-of-system work. There was a lot of serve reception as well.

Wednesday

Practice started with a simple 4-person pepper to work on controlling 3rd ball contacts being sent over the net. We extended this by playing a 2-contact game. By that I mean a team only had two contacts on their side to return the ball rather than three. That forces a lot of “bad ball” situations. Each rally started with a coach hitting a down ball over the net. This was to avoid the players trying to pass serve in an attackable fashion.

Next was a narrow court (about 2/3rds width) 5 v 5 game. We set it up so it was MB/OH vs MB/RS. The side with the RS also had an OH as a third blocker, but not an eligible hitter. The side with the OH attacker had the setter up. Defensively, we then had a middle back and line defender. The intention of these games (we played three games to 10) was to put the attackers in a situation where they faced a lot of good blocks. Thus, it became a major problem solving exercise. How do I score? It also resulted in a lot of hitter coverage work.

We shifted back to 6 v 6 for the rest of the session. First we played 22 v 22. As we did last week, the 2nd ball was initiated at the setter to create an out-of-system play.

The last game was a normal one – sort of. We played a 20-point game where once a team reached 15 points they could only score if they served. In other words, they could not just side out to finish the game. They had to earn “real” points, or break points, or whatever you want to call them.

We did some target serving to finishing the session.

Thursday

We had an early morning practice (6am) before hopping on the bus at 8am for our longest road trip of the season. The session was very much serving and passing oriented, with lots of pass-to-attack work. We only went for about an hour, though. All together, our trip too better than 13 hours.

Friday

The weekend’s first match was at Western New Mexico. We came in never having won their place and never having beaten them in conference play. This is also a team we played poorly against at home. In other words, lots of motivation to want to beat them. They had an away match at Eastern New Mexico during the week, which they lost 0-3.

Western play much better in this match. We definitely had our chance to take them down. After losing the first, then winning the second set, we were ahead in the later stages of the 3rd, but couldn’t close it out. It was a 3-1 loss in the end. Our middles did well, but could not get it done well enough on the pins. We hit only .136, despite a very good night in terms of serve reception. On top of that, our defense didn’t get the job done, allowing Western to hit .227.

Saturday

It was Eastern NM for the second match of the weekend. After beating Western NM earlier in the week, they also beat Cameron on Friday. After losing our prior match, this was a big one for our chances to make the conference tournament.

We jumped on them well in the first two sets. Our offense – led by our middles – was strong, while our defense held them to sub-.100 hitting. Eastern looked listless, like they didn’t even want to be there. It was a strange thing to see in a home team. They definitely turned that around, though. Our offense wasn’t as potent and we struggled to stop them. The result was a tight loss.

Probably not surprisingly, that gave the opposition some momentum. They used that to jump all over us to start the 4th set, going up 5-0. We managed to rebound, and then to get well ahead. We had a breakdown mid-set, though. A 5-point lead melted away rather quickly, and we let Eastern get ahead going into the later stages. We eventually got back on track, though, and squeezed out the win. I would have been very worried about a 5th set had we lost.

In the end we hit .230, thanks to another strong night from our middles. Our OHs had good moments, but not consistently enough. In parts it was being too conservative and in others it was making bad errors. Once more, our passers did well. So did our servers. We probably missed too many, but we tallied 11 aces and consistently had them out of sorts. That helped us on defense. We blocked them 12 times and they hit only .125 – keeping them below .100 in three of the four sets.

Large group volleyball drills and games

As coaches, we sometimes find ourselves in situations where we have to work with a large number of players. This is especially true in tryout situations, in clinics, and in lower level more participation oriented groups. This is when you need large group volleyball drills.

There are two philosophical concepts that are key here. One is to keep the players moving as much as possible. We don’t want them standing around for long periods of time. The other is to maximize player contacts.

So how do we do this?

The first is to avoid line oriented drills. These are things like hitting lines. There are two reasons for this. First is all the waiting around. Second is how few players take part. Think about it. In a standard hitting line, one hitter tosses to a setter. That’s just two active players. And it’s only one if a coach tosses to the hitter!

How can we make that better?

As a starting point, we can add in a block. In fact, we can make that two blockers. Just depends what you want to accomplish with the drill, though. We can add in a passer. And while we’re doing that, we can add in a tosser or server as well. What about someone playing defense?

Now we have six or more players involved in each repetition. That doesn’t mean they all touch the ball each time, but just taking active part means they get reading reps.

Another way to get more players involved in large group volleyball drills is to make effective use of your space. For example, the 2-sided Serve & Pass drill puts servers and passers on both sides of the net. That effectively doubles the number of players involved at any one time.

You can do the same sort of thing by using narrow court arrangements. Think about whether what you want to do can be done on half a court, or even a 1/3 of a court.

That brings up the subject of small-sided games. The classic example of this is Winners, also known as Queen or King (or Monarch) of the Court. Most people play 3s or 4s in this game. Why not play that on a half court? That way you can run two games side-by-side and double the number of players active. Player Winners is another variation that you could possibly run on 1/3 of a court.

Of course what we like about Winners is the fast pace. Players move in and out quickly. We can actually speed that up, though, by using the Speedball version.

Related to that, you can use quick substitutions to manage court time in large group volleyball drills. One example of this used at times at MSU is 6 v 6s. This idea is to make the substitution cycles quick. Ideally, a player is on more than they are off, if that is possible to arrange.

For example, if you have three players you want to play across two positions you can rotate them on a plays or point basis. One is in Position 1, one is in Position 2, and one is off. After some number of plays or points, they rotate. Position 1 goes to Position 2, Position 2 goes off, and the off player goes to Position 1. That means each player is on the court roughly twice as long as they are off.

As always, it is important to start off with a clear set of priorities. What do you want to accomplish? From there you can think about the types of drills and games you can use with the group, and look for ways to keep wait times down, maximize the number of players involved, and to move things along quickly.

Have a favorite large group game or drill? Share it with your fellow readers in the comment section below.

Drill: 6 v 6s

Synopsis: This is a 6 on 6 drill/game that you can use to keep many players active and not sitting out for long periods of time.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for all levels

Requirements: 12+ players, one court

Execution: Set up one side of the court with a team of 6. The rest of the players are on the other side. Six are on the court, with the rest ready to come in. The 6s side serves and the teams play out a rally as normal. On the next serve, a new player serves and bumps the player or players in their position. For example, if an OH serves, they bump the current back row OH up to front row, and the front row one goes off to become a server. Thus, a new player comes in at the start of each rally, and one goes off.

Variations:

  • If you want your pin hitters to attack both on the left and on the right, they can do something like a middle back to left front to right front rotation.
  • You can fix certain positions, for example setter.
  • You can can have certain positions rotate separately without serving, for example middles.
  • If you have enough numbers, you could do the same substitution pattern, or about the same, on both sides of the court and make it 6s vs 6s.

Additional Comments:

  • This drill is something you can use in a situation where you want to work on your starting rotation, or if you want to work on certain serve receive rotations.
  • You don’t have to score the play if you don’t want to, but there are a number of ways you can use scoring. In the most basic way you can play games to X number of points as an indication of when to change things up on the 6 side – be it turn the rotation or swap out players. If there’s something specific you want to work on, you can use some kind of bonus point scoring.

Coaching Log – October 23, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

The first half of the season is over. Thanks to the weekend results, it looks like at least some stuff is starting to settle out. Other stuff, though, remains a bit muddled. This latter bit was helped by Angelo losing both their matches – each in 5 – on the road at the New Mexico schools. For our own part we would have preferred they won both. It would have kept things tighter in our vicinity.

Tarleton continued to roll, with wins at both the New Mexico schools, and Commerce picked up wins at West Texas and UTPB to firm up their position at #2 in the standings.

A look at the statistics tells the story of our position in the standings. Our offense has not been nearly good enough. While we’re 4th in terms of opponent hitting efficiency, we’re 10th when it comes to our own attacking. Part of the defensive side of things is that our block ranks 3rd in terms of blocks/set. We rank 5th in aces/set, but not helping our offense is that we’ve suffered more aces/set than anyone else.

Last year we managed to get into the conference tournament with 6 wins, but that was by the skin of our teeth. I suspect we need to have 7 or 8 to get in this year given how tight things are in the middle of the standings. That means we need 4 or 5 wins in the second half of the season. Unfortunately, the schedule does not help us in that regard. We have to go to the New Mexico schools, and we also have away matches at Commerce and Texas Woman’s. That’s three out of four against teams we’re battling for a place in the tournament.

On the plus side, we get Angelo and West Texas at home. Neither of them has played all that well on the road. Obviously, we must beat the two teams below us, and we get both of them at home as well.

Monday

As per usual, we started with a look back. In particular, we went over the stats for the first half of the conference season. We talked about where we need to get better (offense), and we talked about where we’ve done well (block/defense). As for serving, we talked about how we can probably get a little more aggressive. One of the observations was that our middles have the highest error % among our attackers with the exception of one. Definitely not what you want to see!

After the statistical evaluation, we took a look at video from our last match against Tuesday’s opponent. Then we spent some time looking at the things we’ve accomplished this year and the things we could yet accomplish. This was from the perspective of history – things either not done in several years or not done at all in program history.

Practice was less than 90 minutes. Our concussed setter was finally back in training. We started them off with a short game of Brazilian tennis, then moved into some pass-to-attack offense off serve reception. Worked on our attack in line with our need to get better in that facet of the game. We allowed the defending side to run middle attacks back in transition as an extension. An out-of-system game followed to continue to work in aggressive attacks in that phase. We wrapped up with a game of 5 v 5 where we played 3-up/2-back.

Tuesday

The first match of the second half of the LSC season was at Commerce. Obviously, as you can see from the standings above, they are doing well this season.Their only two conference losses were away to Texas Woman’s and away to Kingsville.

We didn’t play particularly well against them the last time out. This time was very different. In the end, it was a 3-2 loss, with a 15-13 final set, but it was probably our best collective performance of the season. We didn’t hit for a high percentage (just .154 for the match), but kept them even lower (.123). Our serve was serve was effective through most of the match. Our block continued to cause problems for opposing hitters, and our serve reception was generally solid. We actually outscored Commerce 102-100 overall, and 72-65 in terms of earned points.

So why did we lose? Well, our out-of-system hitting produced a lot of errors. Of our 28 total hitting errors, half happened while out-of-system. Given how well our defense did, we would have been well served keeping those balls in play. There were a couple of patches where they gave us trouble in serve receive.

Beyond that, though, it just came down to timing. We missed a really poor serve into the net at 7-7 in the 5th. At 9-8 our freshman middle hit a quick just inches wide. Even after that, we came back from 11-8 to take a 13-12 lead. After Commerce sided-out, though, our senior DS, who otherwise passed well on the night, had a serve go right through her hands to set up match point.

Wednesday

The head coach had to be away from campus at that time, so I got to attend the bi-weekly (I think) athletic luncheon in her place. Basically, it’s a group of the older supporters of MSU Athletics getting an update on things from each of the in-season sports. I told them about our recent performances and what we were looking forward to for the upcoming weekend.

We watched some video before practice as part of our prep for Friday. The first part was looking back on our first time playing West Texas. The second was looking at their match from Tuesday night.

Practice itself focused on out-of-system attacking. We did three main activities. The first was a repeat of the pass-to-attack vs. a defense type work we’ve done a lot of lately. From there we moved on to a continuous 3-up/2-back game. The ball was initiated at the setter to force an out-of-system first attack. From there the rallies proceeded normally. Lastly, we played 6 v 6 with bonus points for out-of-system kills.

While we definitely worked on necessary things, the concentration could have been better. But for the day after a tight 5-set match on the road, it wasn’t horrible.

Thursday

Out-of-system attacking continued to be the big theme. After warming up with a spirited game of Brazilian tennis, we got right into it. The first drill was a dig-set-attack exercise. A ball was initiated at a wing defender. The dig was then set to one of the pins by the other wing defender, and was attacked from there. An elastic was run between the antennae to encourage the hitters to swing high.

We followed with a repeat of the 3-up/2-back game from Wednesday. After a few rounds of serve receive to attack, when then played 22 v 22 to finish up. To keep working on out-of-system hitting, we initiated the second ball to the winning side’s setter.

All in all we were pretty happy with how things went. We saw some strong swings.

After practice the team did some community service time at a local middle school. We then had Homecoming activities in the evening.

Friday

We hosted a tri-match this day. The first was the return match against West Texas. They came in at 7-5 in conference after beating Eastern NM earlier in the week.

We finally broke the streak! MSU had not won against WT in 34 tries before this match. Not only did we win, we won 3-0 in convincing fashion. Our offense wasn’t stellar (.175), but we did the business in serve and defense. We tallied 8 aces and they only hit .082.

Our second match of the day was against Newman, from the Heartland Conference. They were picked 4th in the pre-season voting after finishing 2016 tied for 3rd. They played West Texas before playing us. The result was a 3-0 loss without much challenge after the first set. That followed a loss Thursday night at Lubbock Christian (making them 3-4 in conference).

Unfortunately, we did not quite repeat WT’s earlier performance. We struggled mentally. The result was some not so great play – poor decisions, failing to make adjustments quickly enough, etc. To their credit, Newman fought us hard and gave us fits defensively. They hit .236 for the match. Fortunately, we hit .291. Our middles both hit near .400. The final result was a 3-1 win, but it was really tight until the fourth set.

The Newman win put up to 7 non-conference victories for the year. That’s better than the 6 we got last season. It’s also the most since 2013, and the first time since then that we’ll having a winning non-LSC record.

Saturday

We played UTPB for the second time. They lost a 5-setter to Western NM on Wednesday. They also lost a 5-setter at Cameron on Friday night.

In the early stages we had our struggles. UTPB has a couple of powerful attackers and it took us a while to come to grips with them. I mean that both in terms of choking off their opportunities through serving pressure and in our blocking. In the end we won comfortably, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

Offensively, we did OK. Our hitting efficiency was just below .200. Our servers tallied 7 aces and our block got 9 stuffs That contributed to UTPB only hitting .061. Interestingly, our big OPP got no blocks. They basically set away from her. Our OHs put in a pretty good performance there, though, taking part in 5 blocks on that side of the net.

Pin hitter in volleyball – what is it?

What is a pin hitter in volleyball? This is something wondered by a visitor to the blog. It’s a term readers may have seen me use in places like my coaching log. So what does it mean?

First, we need an equipment terminology explanation. In volleyball, people sometimes refer to the two antennae attached to the net as pins. For example, someone might say, “Set it to the pin.” By that they mean set out to the antenna.

See where this is going?

Pin hitters are thus the attackers who generally hit wide sets out toward the antenna. I don’t know when the term came into common use, but it’s been out there for a while now. Some people use the term specifically to refer to outside hitters – those who attack in Position 4. Really, though, the term applies to both left side and right side attackers.

Now, just because someone is a pin hitter it does not mean they only attack wide sets. There is absolutely no reason a pin hitter cannot hit balls out of the middle of the court. For example, they could come inside to hit a 2 ball. They can also attack the ball out of the back row. That is a regular feature of men’s volleyball, and is becoming more a part of women’s volleyball as well.

The term pin hitter in volleyball does not put an attacker in a box. Rather, it is mainly a reference to a player’s position on the court. The pin hitters are the players whose front row position is closer to the antenna. This is obviously in contrast to the middle hitter, who generally plays in the central part of the court. They sometimes hit balls near the pin (slide attack), but are still middle players.

I hope that helps clear things up for you. If you have any questions about it, definitely let me know.

Coaching Log – October 16, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

The weekend results could probably be said to be in our favor. Eastern NM and Western NM both lost two – each to Commerce and Texas Woman’s. That put them on 4 losses each with Angelo and Tarleton upcoming this week. Not matches they’d be expected to win. Cameron and UTPB also lost their weekend fixtures, to keep both at the bottom of the standings. Interestingly, Kingsville was pushed to 5 sets by UTPB, then lost in 4 at West Texas. That sees both Kingsville and WT also sitting on 4 losses.

Here’s the league standings as we head into the final week of the first half of the season.

Monday

We started with the usual stats talk that we normally do on Mondays. On the plus side, our defenses is performing well. We’re among the top teams in the league in terms of opponent hitting efficiency. Our block is a definite factor there, as we entered the week 3rd place in the LSC rankings in blocks/set. Unfortunately, we have struggled mightily in attack. Over the weekend we managed a measly 21% kill rate, and for the conference season so far we stand 10th of the 11 teams in hitting efficiency. That’s not the sort of thing that earns a team many wins.

We reviewed video of our weekend attacks with the players. In particular, we identified a few key places where we feel we can make improvements. Overall, though, it was mainly about taking more aggressive swings. Our hitters seem to have been more tentative in recent weeks. Need to get back to the high and hard swings that featured in our attack earlier in the season.

Practice focused on these things, though it was a fairly short and low intensity affair. Our medical issues continue to mount. Our 2nd setter still has her broken finger in a cast for a couple more weeks. Setter #3 was waiting for clearance to play after her concussion. Of course, our freshman OH remains out long-term due to her knee injury. For this particular session we added our senior MB with shoulder issues. On top of that, our junior was out sick.

We began with some servers vs. passers, then shifted to a more attacking focus. The rest of the session featured a variety of games aimed at stimulating aggressive attacks. We made some good progress in certain areas.

Tuesday

We took a break from conference play with a home match against Lubbock Christian. They finished 2nd in the Heartland Conference last year and came in to the match 4th in that league. We played them at their place in 2016, losing a close 5-setter. This was one of the non-conference matches we play to help influence our NCAA South Central Region ranking, since Heartland is part of that Region with ours.

This definitely wasn’t a pretty match. Both sides made their fair share of errors and gave up runs of points at times. That led to a split during the first two sets, both of which were only decided by two points. In the first we allowed them to come back after getting a large lead. In the second it was us who came back, but could not finish it off. From there, though, we coasted to relatively easy wins.

Our defense was again solid, holding LCU to just an .076 hitting efficiency. They only scored on 23% of their swings and we tallied a dozen blocks. Our service game was solid generally, though we could have made fewer errors. We had three players rate 2.0 or better and we scored better than 60% of the time when each served.

Offensively, we were better than in recent matches. We got kills on around 35% of our swings. Our freshman MB had a really good match, hitting .643, while our senior OH lead all hitters with 19 kills. We could have done with a few less errors as our efficiency was a bit below .200, but you could see we were trying to make the improvements we talked about on Monday.

Wednesday

After the match the night before, we didn’t want to go to hard in practice. We started with video review. Each of the coaches took a position group – MBs, OHs & RS, DSs – and went over clips from the LCU match. I was with the MBs. We focused on timing. It made timing issues very clear for them. They could easily see the difference between their good swings and their less powerful ones. The pin hitters also focused on timing with respect to their sets, keeping to the theme of the week.

Practice itself focused on those pin hitting timing elements. Basically, we just did serve receive to attack vs. a block and defense. As a second phase, we added an attack to also work on things from the transition side of things. All together we were on the court not much more than an hour.

Thursday

We carried on in this practice the themes for the week. That means working on offensive timing and getting back to aggressive attacking. We started off with Brazilian tennis as our warm-up. From there we shifted into an out-of-system game to work on high, hard swings. We shifted from there to more in-system work using the same type of pass-to-attack drill we did Wednesday. That rolled into 6 v 6 action.

We started with a variation on 22 v 22. In this version we gave a team a win big point if they scored on a right side attack during the initial rally. We also whistled any rally dead and awarded a point to the other team if there was a failure to cover. Otherwise, it was normal rules. After a couple of games of that, it was on to a standard game with a bonus. If a team turned a cover ball into a successful attack, they got a bonus point.

All in all we were quite pleased with the attacking play. Definitely more aggressive than we’ve seen in recent times.

Friday

We did an early practice before hopping on the bus. Most of it was carry over from the work we did earlier in the week – namely focusing on attack timing and aggressiveness. We started with Speedball back row 4s as a kind of warm-up. After that we did a hitting drill initiated by a serve where our OHs and RSs had to attack areas of the court successfully with netting. Basically, that was about reaching high and staying away from hitting to Zone 6.

Next up we did rotation-based receive to attack. We made it competitive by splitting the team into 3 groups of passers and hitters and giving them four serves in each rotation. Group with the most kills (not playing the ball out) won. This was followed by full 6 v 6 play in a repeat of Thursday’s 22 v 22 variation. We wrapped up with some servers vs. passers.

We left campus at about 10:00am for the long trip south. All together it was about 11 hours. That, though, included a stop for an early dinner at the home of one of our seniors who lives along the way. Always nice to get a home cooked meal during your travels!

Saturday

The last match of our first time through the conference was at Kingsville. They finished 3rd in 2016 and were picked to repeat that in the preseason voting. After defeating Cameron on Friday, they entered our match at 5-4 in LSC play.

All in all, while we lost 3-0, I was not overly dissatisfied with our performance. The first set wasn’t great. In particular, we just could not stop their offense. After that, though, we definitely stepped things up. Sets two and three were both quite tight. Our serving gave them problems and we were attacking more aggressively than we’ve done. We got our kill % back above 30%, though still need to push that even higher to have real success.

That said, the annoying thing is that we continue to have stupid “Who’s ball?” type of moment. We’re more than 20 matches into the season if you count the ones we played in Argentina, and there are still times when dumb stuff happens because of confusion about responsibility or players simply failing to do their jobs correctly.

Should JV and Varsity practice together?

Should JV and Varsity practice together? That’s a question a visitor here recently wondered.

For clarification to non-US readers, in school volleyball the varsity team is the 1st team. The junior varsity (JV) team is the 2nd team. Usually, the JV team comprises younger players. For example, at the high school level, the varsity team is usually mostly juniors and seniors (3rd and 4th year students), while the JV team is mainly freshmen and sophomores (1st and 2nd years). That is not a hard and fast rule, though. Talented younger players often play up on varsity. Also, In some places there is a team just for freshmen.

Back to the question.

There are two ways of thinking about whether the JV and varsity teams should practice together.

Should JV and Varsity practice together, but separate?

In some places there is enough gym space to allow both the varsity and JV to practice at the same time on their own courts. By that I mean the varsity is one one court and the JV is on another.

On the plus side, practicing side-by-side conserves time. There is also the possibility of working with all the players at the same time on some specific thing. For example, you might want to work on the same technique for serve receive passing. The two teams would practice separately, for the most part, but you could bring them together for collective instruction as needed.

The problem with the two teams practicing in parallel is the added demand for coaching attention. If it is a situation where the head coach overseas both teams, they have to split their attention between the different courts. And in the case where the JV team has their own coach, it means that person won’t be able to spend much time with the varsity team as an assistant.

Should JV and Varsity practice together on the same court(s)?

This is something I did after a fashion while coaching at Exeter. You can read about it in my coaching log entries for that period. I suspect this is something more likely to be thought about by coaches at smaller schools, or with fewer athletes. I was only dealing with about 14 players total rather than say 24.

In any case, one big advantage to varsity and JV practicing together is the modeling the older players do for the younger ones. The JV athletes get to see first-hand the sorts of technical and mental approaches being taught and what will be expected of them as they progress. This can also be said to be a plus for the side-by-side situation discussed above. Similarly, the ability to work on one thing across both groups all together is a potential benefit as well.

The major drawback to working both sets of players together is the difference in skill levels. If there is a significant gap, it can be a major challenge to run worthwhile practices. You won’t have much trouble challenging the JV players. It’s pushing the varsity athletes that is the bigger difficulty – especially in a situation where the JV players are “drill killers”. Not only does the varsity not get the quality of reps it needs, but they can quickly come to resent having the JV there. That’s never a good situation.

A possible solution

Individual skill training is the area where it’s easiest to merge groups of differing skill levels. The trick is making the exercises you use not reliant on collective performance.

For example, you wouldn’t want to have varsity and JV players together in a serve reception drill where they have a collective goal of reaching some number of good passes. Most likely that would lead to the varsity pulling most of the load and the JV tending to make it take longer. Better if each individual has their own objective. Not only does that avoid intra-group frustration, it can also stimulate a more encouraging environment. Even more so if you structure things in a way that sees the varsity “coaching” the JV.

Then there’s the more game-like activities. Here you have to be very careful. Make sure the JV players are only asked to do things they can do at a reasonable level. Don’t ask them to do something that they can’t do well enough to contribute meaningfully. If you do, it’s not going to be a very productive exercise for anyone. It’s very much the same sort of approach you need to take if you’re thinking to play any kind of A-team vs. B-team type of game.

The bottom line is that you can have varsity and JV practice together in some ways and if you set things up properly to be able to challenge both groups at their own levels.

What does out of system mean in volleyball?

What does out of system mean in volleyball? This is likely something most regular readers of this blog know, but not everyone else does. Someone came here with exactly that question in mind, so let me provide an explanation.

In volleyball, a team is fully in-system when the serve receive pass or dig is good enough that the setter has all of their attacking options available. From a statistical perspective, that means a 3-pass in the 0-3 scale (or a ++ in the ++/+/-/0 system described in this post). In other words, the setter can set left, right, or quick to the middle.

You could also say a team is in-system with a slightly lower quality pass or dig. It’s not as good as on a perfect pass, but the setter still has multiple options.

By contrast, a team is considered out-of-system when they pass or dig poorly. This generally leads to the setter having only one setting option. If the first ball is poor enough, someone other than the setter must take the second contact.

There is also the case where the setter plays the first ball. Regardless of how well they dig the ball, the fact that someone else then takes the second contact means the team is out-of-system.

So basically, out-of-system means either the setter cannot play the second ball or only has a single setting option.

Why is this important?

Because it is very likely that the team’s offense is less effective when out-of-system. The sets are not as accurate or consistent. They offense does not run as quickly, and as a result there is usually at least a double block facing the hitter. That is why one of the strategies you will see is to intentionally attack the other team’s setter. That automatically puts them out-of-system, making a good return attack less likely.

Hope that makes things clear. Let me know if you have any questions.

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