Convincing players random is better than block

John Kessel is a major advocate of making things as game-like as possible where volleyball training is concerned. In one of his blog posts he talks about the “false confidence” block training (simply doing reps) can create in players – and coaches. No doubt, John will continue to bang that drum. It’s a major feature of the USA Volleyball training philosophy, and shows through in the CAP program. It definitely showed through when I did my CAP III course.

I’ve done my fair share of that as well. Going beyond maximizing player contacts is one example. As game-like as possible is another. Episode #17 of the Volleyball Coaching Wizards podcast also has block vs. random training as its theme.

Here’s the question, though.

How do we convince players that more game-like training is better?

Once, during a serving and passing drill, the MSU setters took turns setting off of the pass. One asked why they did not just do one setter at a time. She wanted more repetition “to develop a rhythm”. My response was she never set two balls in a row in a game. She started to push back, but I told her she always does something in between. There’s hitter coverage and blocking and defense, among other things.

That mollified this particular player. I’ve had others on different teams, though, who felt like block reps were better than game-like ones. One of them once told me they let her pass without having to think about anything else. She was an OH who obviously had to think about attacking as well in actual game play. Plus, there’s that pesky issue of dealing with seam responsibility when passing next to another player.

Like in anything else, we have a mixture of personalities among our players. Some are open-minded and accept what you say. They are at least willing to try. At the other end is the close-minded group. They fight you on things. They say stuff like, “We’ve always done it like this,” or “This way works for me.”

It’s fine if those players aren’t key performers or team leaders. You can marginalize them if they persist with the negative attitude. If they are leaders, though, it creates a major problem. They say things like “This is stupid.” That has serious negative consequences for both team chemistry and coach authority. It cannot be tolerated.

So, how do we convince the more resistant players that more game-like training is superior to blocked training? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts or experience.

Coaching Log – November 14, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

It’s down to the last week of the regular season. Angelo clinched the title with their win over us last week. Every other place remained up for grabs, as you can see from the standings.

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Our participation in the conference tournament was in the balance as we were tied with Texas Woman’s. Although the standings show Midwestern above Woman’s, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head. We lost both times we played them, so they actually started the week in pole position. We, therefore, needed to win at least one more match than they did to qualify for the tournament.

So what were the prospects? Not super. Our schedule featured a home match against the bottom team and an away match at the current #3 team. Woman’s was on the road at West Texas and UT Permian Basin. Their odds of winning at WT were small. UTPB maybe not as much. The lost to them in 5 the last time, but Woman’s was down one of their best hitters at the time.

Monday

Defense was a big focus for this session. We watched video of our play from the weekend. We highlighted some good stuff offensively, but also some shortcomings on defense. Positioning was part of that. We also talked about our blocking. That stuff was carried over into practice.

We started with a 6 v 6 team pepper with a specific focus on defensive movement for back row attacks. After that we played a target serving game. From there it was a progression to an out of system game. That allowed us to work on some positioning elements, while also continuing to develop that area of play. We finished with 6 v 6 play.

Tuesday

This was our last home match of the season, and Cameron was the visitor. This is a match we viewed ourselves as strongly favored for based both on Cameron’s record and our earlier performance against them.

That ended up playing out. The Cameron players really didn’t have a lot of fight in them, especially as the match went along. We weren’t as efficient on offense as we could have been, which ended up leading to several long rallies. That resulted in our digging 70 balls, which was second most for a 3-set match in the conference this year.

After our match we hosted a playoff match between two of the local area high schools. One of the teams actually featured one of our committed incoming freshmen. Her team won in five in front of a good, enthusiastic crowd. Part of the revenue match is supposed to go to our program.

Wednesday

This was a pretty low energy session. It picked up toward the end, but generally the focus level was below expectations. We once more began with a 6 v 6 team pepper, though slightly modified from the one we did on Monday. With a review of the stats from our last match against Friday’s opposition in mind (we served very poorly), we repeated Monday’s serving competition next.

After that, we move into hitters vs. blockers. Mainly that meant the OHs. This was all done off serve, and things went badly. The servers really took the passers apart. There were very few in-system balls for the setters to set as a result.

Our last planned exercise was 22 vs. 22. The bonus element was saying if a team got a first ball kill on a tip or shot they automatically won the big point. The play was somewhat sluggish, so after a couple of rounds we just finished with some 4s play.

Thursday

This was primarily a travel day, as we had an 8-hour trip ahead of Friday’s match. We did stop along the way to do a short practice at the high school of one of our players, however, to take a break from the bus. That was followed by dinner at her home before getting back on the road and finishing the trip.

Friday

The final match of the regular season saw us playing at Kingsville. They handled us relatively easily the first time around as we struggled considerably in serve receive and served poorly.

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Serving was much better this time around, though we still has some issues in serve receive. We got aced 9 times in the first two sets, which obvious puts a team under pressure. The funny thing is we hit .481 and .290 in those sets. Part of that was that we passed well when not getting aced. Another part was our hitters keeping their errors down. Unfortunately, we struggled to stop their offense as they hit .458 and .351 respectively. Both sets ended 25-19 against.

The third set was very evenly matched. Both teams struggled a bit on offense, hitting in the .100s. We just couldn’t take advantage of a few key opportunities to score, and ended up losing 25-22.

Saturday

On Friday evening, Texas Woman’s lost to West Texas. That left it to their match at UTPB on Saturday to determine the 8th spot for the conference tournament. If they won, we’d end up tied in the standings, but they would take the final place by way of the tiebreak.

I followed the match online via the live stats. Woman’s won the first two sets. I figured we were probably toast at that point. UTPB came back and won two tight sets to send it to a fifth, though. The final was a nail-biter. Woman’s had a couple of match points, but ended up going down 22-20.

Observations

Time to prepare the team to take on Angelo at their place for the second time in two weeks!

As an aside, the other MSU Fall sports have had pretty successful season. Cross Country and Women’s Soccer both won their conference championships. Men’s Soccer was regular season champion, but lost in the tournament final. Both soccer teams have made the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament. Nationally ranked Football lost their last game of the year to only managed a 2nd place finish in conference.

Technical vs Mental Training

Once upon a time I considered myself a highly technically oriented coach. I focused a lot on how players executed skills. I came up from a highly block oriented training background (meaning skill repetition), and I think the two kind of went together. Somewhere along the way, though, I started to shift to a more mental view of training.

I don’t recall a specific moment when the light bulb went off. I think it was more of a gradual realization that the teams I was involved in coaching were just not playing the game as well as required. They could execute the skills, but that simply wasn’t enough.

What do I mean by a more mental focus?

Basically, I mean focusing more on the structure of play and the decision-making process. The latter relates to choices individual players make while they play. For example, should I attack the ball aggressively here? Do I need to make sure I keep my serve in this time? Who’s my best set choice at this moment? And so on down to the level the specific skill the player elects to use. This is the solution side of the solution-execution combo Julio Velsaco talked about when I was at the 2014 HP Coaches Clinic.

The structure of play aspect relates to how players work together. It’s an element of what Mark Lebedew wrote about in his The Key to Volleyball post. Mark has also previously talked about how as soon as you have more than one player on the court it becomes an organizational situation much more so than a technical one.

I should note that when I talk about structure of play I’m not talking about systems. Yes, systems are part of it. For me, though, structure begins with mentality and expectations. How do we train and play as a group? That then feeds into how each individual plays within the scope of their role in the squad.

Is technique important? Of course. But technique is at the end of a chain on things, most of which are not physical. The vast majority of a player’s time is spent not in skill execution, but in preparing for that execution (see Going beyond maximizing player contacts). That is largely mental, and it’s where truly great players and teams excel.

Striking the balance

Clearly, we cannot just coach the mental side of the game. If a player can’t execute the skills, the rest won’t matter much. The question is finding the balance based on where your players are in their development. In my case, I have mostly dealt with players who have at least some base level of skill. Gains from improvements in technical ability at that level are generally less than those from improvements in the mental parts of the game – at least up to a certain point.

As always, it comes down to you as the coach evaluating your situation, setting priorities, and remaining focused on them.

Coaching Log – November 7, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

Just two weeks left in the regular season and things are still working themselves out in the Lone Star Conference. Most of the results went as expected, but there were a couple of interesting ones. Top of the last was Cameron getting its first victory of the year against Western New Mexico. The other was Commerce winning at Kingsville. Angelo continues to roll along and started the new week #10 in the Division II poll.

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Unfortunately, our losses against Eastern NM and Western NM (especially the latter), probably reduced our chances of moving up from 8th place to near zero. Western doesn’t have any easy matches left, but play four of their last six at home. We probably need them to lost almost all of them to have a shot at jumping into 7th.

Monday

After the weekend’s exertions, and with the match upcoming on Tuesday, we had a light session. We did some serve & pass. Then we worked a little on a new option for one of our serve receive rotations, which has had some problems. Lastly, we had them play some 4s. All together it was about 75 minutes.

Before practice we did video on the upcoming match. We also talked about some stats I developed. One of our biggest focus areas of the last few weeks has been defense. One part of that was getting our block timing corrected as we were late very frequently. The other part was improving positioning and reading, as well as digging the ball and having a stronger mentality about keeping the ball off the floor.

The stats I did compared our performance in the first half of the conference season to how we have done through the second half to-date. I calculated block and dig percentages. By that I mean I calculated the number of non-error attacks (excluding blocked balls) by the other team. I then divided blocks and digs by that number to get a percentage.

Up to this point we played five matches in the second half of the conference schedule. In all but one, our block percentage was higher than when we played those same teams the first time around. The same was true for dig percentage (different team, though). I also added blocks and digs to come up with an overall defensive percentage. In only one instance was that number lower the second time around. In three cases it was 10 points higher.

Tuesday

We played Texas Woman’s at home. Like our Commerce match two weeks prior, this was a chance to reverse a tough 5-set loss the first time we played them. Things didn’t go to script.

This was a really disappointing performance. We lost 3-0 despite holding the other team to hitting below .100 as we only managed to hit .041. We only got kills on 23% of our swings, which is incredibly low. Our serving and passing wasn’t great, but wasn’t bad. The one issue we had with the serving was bad errors. At one point in the third set we missed three straight in the net. Hard to get much going when you do that.

After the match we ended up having a long meeting in which we collectively talked about the vibe on the court and how we can get things turned around to finish the season strong and positive.

Wednesday

We actually didn’t train for very long this day. Much of our practice time slot was dedicated to video review. We watched some of the prior night’s match to look at things both offensively and defensively. In the case of the latter, there wasn’t a lot of negative to point out. A little bit of positional stuff and some movement bits, but in line with what we’ve seen in the numbers, we’re definitely doing better. In terms of the offense, we talked quite a bit about the purpose of what we’re looking to do in attack. There were a number of questions, which isn’t a real surprise given how poorly we’ve generally been on offense of late.

Once it got to practice, we only really did one set of exercises. On one court the head coach worked with the passers on some technical elements. On the other court I initially had the Middles. A major focus was on spacing to allow them to be able to attack different angles. Later the OHs came over to work on the tempo of their sets as well. This has been a major breakdown of late.

Thursday

We watch video on our prior match against Friday’s opponent before practice. This was a shift from our prior scouting where we focused on recent matches. Partly, this reflected the fact that there wasn’t likely to be much change in opposing personnel or playing style from the last time we played. Mainly, though, we wanted to look at the things that worked on offensive and how we could be a bit better defensively.

Practice itself was something of a progression. We started with some 3 v 3 over-the-net pepper – first with down balls, then back row swings. After some target serving work, it was on to an out-of-system setting and hitting exercise, and then Side-v-Side, a competitive variation on Cooperative Cross-Court Hitting. We ran the latter to continue the prior day’s work on outside set rhythm. From there we shifted to 6 v 6 play.

This was one of the more positive and energetic recent sessions. It seemed like a good prep for the weekend’s matches.

Friday

We played at Tarleton. Our home match against them was one of our better performances.

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The return fixture was pretty good as well. We lost 3-0, and the scores didn’t really flatter us, but offensively we were much improved. Unfortunately, they really did a number on us with a couple of tough servers. They also played really good defense. I think the team came away feeling much better than in other recent performances, while also knowing where we need to be better.

Saturday

We were at conference leaders Angelo.

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When we played them the first time it was a poor match. This time it was much better. We still lost 3-0, but we continued to perform at a higher level. We made a defensive change for this match. All season we’ve played with our OHs defending in middle back (6). For this match we shifted one of them to left back (5). She ended up with 18 digs. This is something we may expand heading into the final week of the season.

Observations

Tuesday’s match could end up being a “what could have been” moment for the team. We’ll have to see when the dust settles at the end of the conference season.

Tracking block and defense improvement

During the 2016 season, one of the things we focused on with the Midwestern State team as the Lone Star Conference season progressed was improvement in our block and defense. Our block timing was poor. That meant not only few blocks, but also few digs. Though we also needed improvement in defensive position and actual digging. We were bottom of the league standings in both categories at one point, I believe.

Per set figures

Toward the end of October I ran some numbers to gauge our progress. I first started with blocks/set and digs/set. Those are the commonly reported figures, so it made sense.

Through the first round of conference matches (10 total), we averaged 1.17 blocks and 11.16 digs per set. Over the course of the first five matches of the second half of the season we averaged 1.57 and 15.47 respectively. That’s pretty good.

Percentages

A coaching friend suggested I look instead at block and dig percentages. Basically, that divides those figures by the total number of non-error attacks (blocked balls excluded from the error count). Since attack numbers can vary from match to match – and five set matches always mess with per set averages – the percentage approach is the better way to go.

For the first half of the season our block percentage was 4.5%. Our dig percentage was 42.1%. That adds up to a total “stop” percentage of 46.6%. For the first five matches of the second half the comparable percentages were 4.9%, 48.3%, and 53.2%. Again, gains across the board.

In each but one of the second half matches our block percentage was higher than against that same team the first time around. The same was true of the dig percentage (different match). Similarly, when looking at the total figure, only one match was worse the second time than the first.

Limitations

While these comparisons tell us the team was more effective in defense for the first five matches of the second half of the conference season, there is a limit as to how far you can take the analysis. What happens on the other side of the net leading to an attack matters. If you do a better job putting a team in difficulty through tough serves and/or good attacks, you will likely find it easier to block or dig their attacks.

Also, ultimately what you want from your defense is it to generate point scoring. That means it’s worth extending the analysis of something like dig percentage to see how many swings you get from those digs and how efficiently they convert into points.

Coaching Log – October 31, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

There were some interesting results in the prior week’s matches. One of the more interesting one was Tarleton losing to Commerce, a team we had just beat. Another was Eastern New Mexico beating Kingsville. That’s good in terms of demonstrating a high degree of competitiveness and parity among a large part of the conference. Unfortunately, neither of those results helped us.

Here’s how the standing sit going into the new week.

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We are in a good position to qualify for the conference tournament. We have two matches left against teams below us in the standings – though one of them beat us earlier. The tricky part is trying to move up the table so we can avoid Angelo in the first round of the tournament. Help from others will likely be required. Plus, we need to grab a couple of wins against teams above us. This week provided a pair of opportunities to do that.

Monday

Our big focus on the day was serve receive. We dedicated about the first half hour to the pin hitters and defensive specialists passing, especially in the combinations used in matches. It was fairly standard serve and pass, then added in a hitting element. After that we went straight to full 6 v 6 play. We worked on some new offensive options for serve reception.

Tuesday

This was basically a totally competitive practice. We split the team in half and played a series of 25-point games. The first was Speedball style 4s (fixed setters, others flipping through in 3-player units). We played the back row attack only until one team reached 10 points, then switched to allowing front row swings. The second game was 5 v 5. Since it was two teams rather than three, the teams just used player rotations. Finally, we played a straight up 6 v 6 game.

Before practice we met with the team to talk about some things in what is normally our video review time slot (when not playing). After Monday’s practice we gave them some homework. They were told to watch this Club World Championship match. Their homework was to make observations with respect to the players in their position. We had them share those observations at this time. They did a pretty good job with it.

Wednesday

We did a sort of Halloween themed session. The wrinkle was we gave the players an assignment to pick a superhero that they could personally relate to on some level. They only had about 24 hours to come up with costumes, but they did a pretty good job.

We were again in our secondary gym for this practice. That allowed us to use two courts, so we split out the passers and the middles. The former did serve & pass by rotation. The latter worked on middle sets. While it wasn’t the only focus, we dedicated a fair amount of attention to our 31s to get them on a more consistent fast tempo.

After that, it was all game play. That started with winners 4s. Initially it was back row attack. Then we shifted to allowing front row attacks. We continue to use these small-sided games because they have a clear positive impact on our defensive play, as well as on our offensive thinking and decision-making.

We then finished up the two rotations not done in Monday’s 6 v 6 work. Finally, we played a 6 v 6 game in which we put the hitters on one team and the setters and defensive players on the other. They had fun with it. The hitters won, but it was tight.

Thursday

We had a prospective recruit practice with us, so the session was a combination of exercises to allow us to watch her and to prep for the upcoming matches. We started with the rotating partner pepper we’ve done a few times lately. After that was a serve and pass game that incorporated middle attacks in the point scoring.

The rest of practice was competitive games. We started with 4s, both back row only and then anything goes. From there we progressed to 5s. The last game was the modified version of 22 v 22 we used before where teams rotate when they score a big point. This time we gave a team a big point if they scored a first ball kill on a 31.

With Homecoming on Saturday, the team took part in the annual bonfire event in the evening.

Friday

We got Eastern New Mexico on the return leg. They have had some good results recently, so came in with some confidence. As you may recall, we fought back against them for a 3-2 win at their place last month.

This was a disappointing one. All through the first set we could see the potential in our offense to really do some damage. We passed relatively poorly, but still managed to hit .226. Unfortunately, we didn’t put them under enough pressure – especially from the service line. As a result, they hit .323 and we lost 25-17.

We got the serve kicked in to gear in the second set, and made it much tougher for the other team to run their offense. They only hit .116. We got off to a good start with our own offense, and got out to a good lead. We couldn’t hold it, though, making a number of errors down the stretch. We ended up hitting only .026 and lost 24-26.

Things didn’t improve at all in the third. Our serving was OK, but passing remained erratic. Our setting was inconsistent (which was the case throughout). We only managed 6 kills and hit .029 on the way to a 25-19 loss.

It seemed to me that whereas in prior matches there seemed to be a tightness against good teams, this time we looked a little over-excited. A lot of errors came from over playing the ball in certain ways.

Saturday

Two matches were on tap for the day. The first was Western New Mexico. They handled us rather easily at their place the first time around. It was definitely a different story this time.

Our offense struggled in the first set (.018), but we kept them from really getting going too, which resulted in a narrow 26-24 loss. Just too many hitting errors on our end. In the second we cleaned that up and took a 25-17 win. Back to lots of errors in the third, resulting in a 25-13 loss, but then another reversal in the forth for a 25-20 win. In the fifth we let them get out to something like an 8-2 advantage with another poor run in the attack. We managed to claw back to I think about 9-7 with a good serving run, but that was about it. In the end we lost 15-8.

That was tough. We played some really good defense, and both served and passed well. We just didn’t quite get it done well enough on offense. It wasn’t strictly about hitting errors. A lot of times we simply didn’t score when we had the chance.

The second match of the day was against Southern Nazarene to complete the non-conference portion of our schedule. We played it right after our other match. In hindsight, scheduling this one was a bad decision. Neither our starting OPP nor our leading OH could play. That meant we couldn’t rotate players around, especially at OH. The fatigue was clear. The players fought hard, but we lost 3-1.

Observations

Before Saturday’s first match I talked a bit with our Associate Athletic Director. He was at Friday’s match and made an observation. He said the team on the court didn’t look like they wanted to be there. This is in stark contrast to the bench. They were lively and engaged. I told him it’s something we’re trying to figure out. It seems like the players have less fun out there since conference play started. Whether that’s because they put more pressure on themselves or what, we don’t know. The head coach spoke with them about that before Saturday’s first match. Things did look better. I think we need to keep working on it, though, especially given the tough upcoming schedule.

Teaching Volleyball Log – Fall 2016 Midterms

It’s been a while since my initial volleyball teaching log entry. I figure now is a good time for a second one as I just put my students through their midterm exam. So here goes!

I ended up with a total of 9 students. I lost the male student I started with, but picked up another one, and also added a female student. Nine isn’t a great number, but at least I can mix my grad assistant in to balance the numbers out when required.

Classes

Classes are somewhat like coaching. Obviously, the difference here is that I’m not training them to compete as a team. It’s more about them developing their skills and playing a lot. It is, obviously, a participation class. Thus far I have generally had the players do skill type work in the first half of the session, then made the rest be a mixture of small-sided and full-court games.

The skill stuff is mainly serving and serve reception. I have them do a partner serving warm-up every session. I sometimes do target serving after that, and sometimes they play serving games (like Amoeba). I also have them do serve and pass in groups as well.

In the last few weeks I’ve been working on encouraging most pass-set-hit when they play games. That’s been through bonus points. Initially, I gave them for just attempting to attack. Then, as they became aggressive, I shifted to just giving them for kills. I also started giving them for blocks as well.

Basically, I am gradually working them toward playing a more complete version of the game.

Off-Court Stuff

Along with the skill and game work, I have spent time on rules and other stuff. Since most of the group has played before, they are largely up on them. We went over referee hand signals, line judge responsibilities, and overlap rules. There was a day when we could not use the court, so I did a video session. We watched some of the 1964 Olympics, as well as a little of both the USA men and women from the 2016 Olympics.

The exam

So here’s what I did for their exam. I came up with a long list of volleyball questions. Most of them were about rules. I mixed in a bit of history, though, too. I also asked them about the 2016 Olympic USA men’s and women’s teams, as well as the Midwestern State team. I randomly ordered the questions before the exam. I had the students draw lots to determine their order (1 to 9).

Here’s how it went. I asked a student a question. If they answered it correctly, they earned points. If they did not, the next person in line could either answer it or request a new question. I went one time through the list of questions, then went back through and re-asked questions not correctly answered the first time. Correct answers on the second round earned more points. I’m told this format is called a randomized tournament.

After the question round, I broke the students into three groups of three. They were required to list the players on the USA and MSU rosters. They earned points based on how many players they correctly named.

My grad assistant liked the format. I liked how it helped the education process overall better than if they just answered them individually on paper.

Is a block a hitting error?

A reader asked me the following question about hitting and blocking statistics.

Is a won block counted as a hitting error for the corresponding hitter?

In U.S. volleyball the answer to that question is usually “Yes.” Elsewhere in the world, I think the answer is “No.”

I say that based on my experience as a coach in Sweden, and also from statistics in European leagues. The common practice there is to break out actual hitting errors from blocked balls. This might just be a function of DataVolley reporting, though.

Which is the right way? That is up to the statistics user.

From the perspective of reporting, the trend is to take a positive view. By that I mean they want to report players earning points rather than players giving up points. In that mindset a block is a positive thing for the defensive player. It is a negative for the hitter.

As coaches, however, we must decide which way to count them. It is about which approach provides the best information for us in the context of our own teams. There is definitely value in splitting errors and blocked balls, which standard NCAA box score reporting does not do.

Personally, I like including blocked balls for hitting efficiency [ (kills-errors)/total attempts ]. There is value in more granular reporting, though.

Coaching Log – October 24, 2016

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

And so began the second half of the conference season!

Here’s how the Lone Star Conference standings were at the turn.

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Most of the prior week’s results were basically true to form. The one surprise was UT Permian Basin beating Texas Woman’s (in 5). That was a good result for us as it kept TW from moving onto level terms with us.

We have some work to do in the second half, though. While it’s no guarantee, beating the three teams below us in the standings likely gets us into the conference tournament. Ideally, however, we want to be in no worse than 6th position by season’s end. That would get us away from Angelo and Tarleton in the first round.

Monday

It was a relatively short session, not very high on the intensity scale. We did some station-based ball-handling work during the first 25 minutes. Mostly it was over-the-net pepper, but we had a couple of defense stations mixed in as well. From there we shifted to a serve & pass game.

The core of practice was an offense vs. defense exercise. The offensive team was in reception and had to score two points in a row – basically meaning a kill. If they got a good attack, but not a kill, it was a wash. If they lost the rally, they went back to zero. Much of what we wanted to do was work on running our OHs on some different types of sets.

That carried over into a wash game to finish. Every rally started with a serve. Whoever won the serve rally got a setter-out ball. A team had to win both balls to score a point. If, however, a team won the initial rally via an OH kill from something other than a set to the pin, they automatically won the point. We played a game to 10.

Tuesday

Round 2 of conference play began with a chance for redemption against Texas A&M Commerce at home after suffering that loss from a 2-0 position a couple weeks back. This match went eerily similarly to the last one.

We won the first two sets, 23 and 21. Then we completely laid an egg in the third – at least for the first half the set – and lost 25-17. We took the opportunity to give our starting setter and one of our OHs a bit of a break during the latter stages of the set. The fourth was tighter, but we lost that one as well, 25-22. That set was just two teams hammering on each other as we had 16 kills and they had 20. The fifth set was pretty sloppy. We were a little less so, though, as we hit .087 compared to their -.094. The end result was a much needed 15-9 win.

Both of our MBs were over .300 in their hitting percentages. We had five players with double-digit digs and four with double-digit points. For the first time in a long while, our point scoring percentage was at 50%. Unfortunately, our sideout percentage was also at 50%, which is a few points below our usual rate.

Wednesday

This was a low jump session for the players after Tuesday’s match. We were in our secondary gym, which allows us to do two courts, but with limited service area – especially on one side. We started them off with 3s pepper over the net with the third contact a down ball. On one court the down balls went cross court. On the other, they were hit straight. We did four rotations of that. After that, we did target serving.

Next up was Continuous Cross-Court Digging. We had the hitters amp things up and swing more aggressively. It was some much needed work on digging harder hit balls. That’s an area of developmental need for the team.

After that it was some servers vs. passers games. In this variation the servers got points for hitting target zones, but lost points for serving to 6, missing in the net, or missing back-to-back serves. The receiving team scored points for good passes. One game comprised each team having a chance to serve and receive, combining their points for an aggregate score.

The last part of practice as Speedball style 4s – first back row only, then anything goes.

Thursday

This was a travel day. The players lifted in the morning, but no practice.

Friday

We were on the road against UTPB.

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The match went basically as expected. We won relatively easily 3-0. The good thing was we saw improvement from the first time we played them. Back when we played in our gym we hit .198, had two blocks, and 27 digs. This time we hit .257, had 6 blocks and 47 digs.

Saturday

West Texas was the opposition for this match.

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Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep the string going. Our passing broke down. Naturally, that meant our offense sputtered. Plus, we were against a good defensive team. The result was sub-.100 hitting for the match. We didn’t do a particularly good job of stopping them either, as they hit .273. Not surprisingly, it was a fairly one-sided match. On the plus side, we got 7 blocks. That’s well above our season average from a per set perspective.

Observations

The West Texas match is the second in as many weeks where we had a major break down in serve reception. Clearly, that’s something which needs attention.

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