How do I help players play abroad?

I once had an email from an avid reader of the blog on the subject of professional volleyball. It was basically a 2-part question and I want to tackle part of it here. Basically, this person is coaching in Canada and is curious how Canadian players can take their game overseas. Specifically:

“… what can you tell me about possibility of Canadian players playing in Sweden or Europe. What should they expect ? Any details?”

First of all, let me say that when I coached for Svedala I looked at number of Canadian players while we were in the process of trying to secure our three foreigners for the current season. I remember there was at least one who I thought would be a good addition to the squad. She committed somewhere else, though. I believe at least one Canadian female player was in Sweden that year (2015-16). There could have been more on the men’s side.

The professional volleyball player hiring process struck me as being something quite similar in a lot of ways to the college recruiting process. At least from my end it was, anyway. By that I mean I spent a lot of time looking at video and researching players. I tried to assess each one who came to my attention, and to rate them against others in their position. Obviously, there isn’t the academic consideration, but you’re still trying to find a good ability, potential, and personality fit for the squad.

Get an agent

In the professional case, though, the vast majority of the players we hear about come to us via player agents. As much as I’ve heard my fair share of stories about a “get them signed and forget about them” approach which seems to often be the case among agencies, the reality of the situation is that they are probably a requirement.

Think about it from this perspective. There are dozens of countries where someone could potentially go to play volleyball professionally. Unlike the case of college volleyball, they don’t all speak the same language and getting contact information for the coach or manager isn’t always easy. On top of that, clubs have a wide variety of resources and ever changing player needs. These sorts of things are really hard for anyone just coming out of college volleyball to know.

The fact of the matter is that agents and agencies have the knowledge and experience to direct players toward countries and clubs where they are reasonable prospects. That’s how they get paid, so behooves them to stay up on the “market” from that perspective. They are constantly asking the clubs “What do you need?” and “What can you pay?”. Of course that doesn’t prevent them from trying to push a player for a higher salary, but that’s a whole other subject.

This isn’t to say a player couldn’t represent themselves. To do so, though, they would probably have to be very targeted and do a lot of research. One of my players said she’s been told by others she’s spoken with on the subject that many (most) players drop their agent after a couple of years because either they’re happy where they are or feel like they’ve developed the knowledge and contacts they need to do things themselves.

Expectations

In terms of what to expect, that’s a tricky thing to answer – in part because I’m still relatively new to it myself. Also, though, from what I’ve heard conditions and player treatment can vary considerably.

Generally speaking, a player contract will have their accommodation provided by the club, along with at least one set of flights to/from there. Beyond that, it becomes situational. There could be a vehicle provided. Some meals may be part of the deal. A ticket home for the holidays could be on offer, and other things as well.

Then there’s the question of player treatment. In some places players will be sent home for one of any number of reasons (performance, club finances, etc.) while in other places that sort of thing doesn’t really happen except in the case of major injury. Some places players get paid on time with no issues, while in other places that can be a dicey thing. Quality of living arrangements can be varied as well.

From what I’ve been told, the Scandinavian countries are generally seen as a good stepping-stone for those thinking of a professional volleyball career. The clubs are stable and the cultural transition for players from the US and Canada is fairly easy. Of course the trade-off is that the pay scales are lower. For those looking to get a feel for what life as a pro would be like, though, it seems like a reasonable first step.

Recommendations

What I would recommend to coaches who have players with overseas aspirations is that they do a few things:

  • Research the player agents and agencies so you can point players in the right direction.
  • Put players in touch with others with experience playing abroad (and talk with them yourself)
  • Develop overseas coaching contacts so you can at least gain your own understanding of the landscape and maybe feed players through directly in some cases.

Hope that helps. I would love to get some comments and insights from others with experience in professional volleyball and the process.

Volleyball overlap rule – please teach players

OK coaches. Let’s talk volleyball overlap rule. We need to get things sorted out.

If we don’t accomplish anything else with our players, we should at least be able to teach them the rules of the game. Some of you out there are coming up a bit short in that regard. At least this is the case when it comes to the overlap rules. I keep coming across players who have some serious misconceptions.

It’s very simple folks.

Part 1 – A back row player cannot be closer to the net than the player immediately in front of them in the rotation. This means the player in 1 cannot be closer to the net than the player in 2. Same for the player in 6 and the one in 3, and for the player in 5 and the one in 4.

Part 2 – The middle player in a row must not be nearer to the left sideline than the left player or nearer to the right sideline than the right player. That means the player in 3 cannot be closer to the left sideline (looking toward the net) than the player in 4, or closer to the right sideline than the player in 2. Similarly, the player in 6 cannot be closer to the left sideline than the player in 5, or closer to the right sideline than the player in 1. The one exception is that if the player in 1 is serving. They are not technically in the court so there is no potential overlap.

See the diagram below for clarity.

Volleyball Overlap Rule

Volleyball Overlap Rule

Note, there is NO DIAGONAL OVERLAP!

See FIVB Rule 7.4. (page 26 of the linked PDF).

Why does this come to mind? Because when I coached in Sweden I found out at least some of my players didn’t know the rules. This is in a professional league! I had a sneaking suspicion based on some little things I saw in a couple matches. One practice solidified it, though. We’re talking players with many years of experience. My team had members who played in the top US collegiate volleyball conferences and players who have represented their countries at the youth levels.

I ran into the same issue when I was coaching in Exeter. Admittedly, the experience level there was considerably more diverse and limited.

I even ran into this issue in the early years of my coaching with another coach on the staff of the first NCAA Division I program I coached for. She had been an All-American in her playing days!

Please, please can we commit ourselves to teaching our players the rules properly?

You can call me Doctor now

Well, I’m not sure what the timing is in terms of when the degree is officially conferred, but effectively it’s a done deal. I’m a freshly minted PhD. 🙂

On Monday I was back in Exeter doing what they call “viva” in UK academic terms. It’s roughly equivalent to what would be referred to in the US as a doctoral defense. Basically, I met with my two examiners – one from the Exeter faculty (internal) and one from another university (external) – in this case from the University of Reading. They received copies of my thesis shortly after I submitted in in early October, reviewed it, then discussed their views on it between themselves.

The viva was basically me talking about the thesis with them. I was asked to do about a 5 minute summary and then we went over the full document. They asked questions about the theory that went into it and the analytic methods I used, and pointed out a handful of minor issues. I then left the room for a couple minutes as they conferred.

When I was called back in, they shook my hand and congratulated me. The official result is I’ve been awarded my doctorate subject to completion of minor corrections to the thesis. Today I was provided a list of those corrections (they really are minor) by the internal examiner. I’ll get an official letter shortly with the same details. Once I’ve made the corrections, I’ll have to submit the final thesis along with a letter outlining the corrections I made to my supervisor and that will basically complete the process.

And so ends 3+ years of struggle and strain!

Can’t complain too much. I got back into coaching volleyball while I was doing it. 🙂

 

Coaching Log – Dec 7, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

On Sunday in a potentially surprising result, Engelholm beat Hylte 3-1 at home, giving the latter their first loss on the year. Combined with our win over Lindesberg, that sees Svedala and Hylte equal on 17 points. We jumped Örebro, who was inactive. The victory saw Engelholm strengthen its 4th place position. The only other match on the week saw Sollentuna get their first win in a 3-0 pounding of RIG. Here’s the table to start the new week.

Elitserie-Nov2915

Gislaved remained in mathematical contention for a spot in Gran Prix to begin the week as they could still get up to 15 points. If we beat them at their place on Thursday, though, or if they lost at home to Hylte on Saturday, it would officially knock them out of the running.

The remainder of the week’s schedule featured us hosting Engelholm and RIG hosting Lindesberg on Saturday, with Örebro hosting Sollentuna on Sunday. With Lindesberg and Örebro favored in their matches, our second go around with Engelholm was the one with the most likely chance of impacting on the hunt for Gran Prix spots. Two wins on the week would assure us of a top-2 seed for that tournament.

There were no matches counting toward the Oresund Liga standings, so the picture there started this week unchanged. Three matches this week, however, are on top for that competition. One of them is our away match to Gislaved. It was indicated originally that this one wouldn’t count, so maybe things will change at some point. The other two are Amager vs. Holte, meaning their Danish league match counting toward the Oresund Liga as ours with Gislaved does. The other is a cross-border battle: Holte vs. Engelholm.

Monday
I spent a whole bunch of time doing video work this day. I had to prepare some video on Thursday’s opponent, though just as a refresher since we’ve played them before. I shared game footage from their most recent match, and also pointed them to our prior meeting. I also prepared and posted video from our last two matches (Hylte and Lindesberg) so they could review.

For training, I was without my two starting OHs. One is still fighting a persistent illness while the other is recovering from the leg issue she developed during the match on Saturday. As per usual following a match, we started training talking about developments and started the process of looking forward to the next match.

One of the key components of that was our serving, where we’ve seen our error to ace ratio in recent matches push a bit higher than we’d like (it was 14 to 7 against Lindesberg). I don’t normally call out individuals in this kind of situation, but three players in particular have been the biggest factor. For the season they have something like 17 aces against 47 errors. We talked about the need to be more consistent, though I have also encouraged two of them in the development of their serves so, there’s balancing act.

As tends to be the case, this was a more technical session.

One of the three things I wanted to focus on were to continue training the step in digging. We did that using attacks from boxes over the net in a step up from what we’ve done.

A bigger priority, and what we spent the most time on was blocking. That started with an exercise in movement and footwork. We’ve had some issues with floating blocks, so I had the players working in their position to move fast and get a good plant with the outside foot. Later, we extended that by having the blockers work against hitters on boxes to add in the hand positioning.

Mixed in was a serving drill. The players were told to serve in to one half of the court. If they got the ball in that zone they got +1. If they missed the zone, but the ball was still in the court, that was 0. If they had a serving error, it was -1. The objective was to get to +10.

We finished up with a small-sided, narrow court game to 21.

Tuesday
The two starting OHs were once more out for training, but we had a couple of additions for a total of 10. After warm-ups, I had them continue their work on digging balls to the side with a cut-off step, but only in partners this time. I then also had them repeat the blocking footwork done on Monday. To complete the trio, they did the same +10 serving exercise, though focusing on the other half from what they did the prior session.

I had them play Speedball in teams of 2 with fixed setters as a game play warm-up. The rest of the training was spent doing 6 v 4. One of the sidelined OHs served from the 4 side to the 6. Once that rally played out, I gave a free ball to the 4 side. The setter on that side was back row. I started the 6 side with the setter in 1. Because I wanted to limit the amount of jumping for the starting setter, I had her play her three back row rotations, alternating rotations in which the MBs were front row (so 1, 5, 6). For the three front row setter rotations, I had the back-up setter playing on the 6 side.

A really fun element of the 6 v 4 was the excitement of one of our guest players – a young member of the 2nd team. She was playing OH on the 4 side. During the latter part of the exercise she started really connecting on her attacks and hit several balls really well. After each one she jumped and screamed as if she’d just won a championship. 🙂

Wednesday
Because the team in on “active rest” this week, we didn’t do team lifting before training. That will resume next week when they start the next training cycle.

The OH with the leg niggle (turns out to be hamstring related), was back for this session, but the one who’s been struggling with a long-term illness remained on the sidelines resting. As per usual, they began Wednesday training with 2-ball volleytennis.

A bit of pepper to extend the warm-up was followed by the cooperative cross court hitting drill. We haven’t done that one in a while and will face a team that is very left-side heavy in their offense – and further favors cross-court attacks. It’s not the most game like exercise in terms of replicating what we’ll see, but at least it gave us some work on defending.

From there we did some serving for consistency. That was then followed by the Winners back row 3s where instead of waving through, the losing team is replaced directly on their side while I initiate a ball to the winning team. Thursday’s opposition also likes to use the pipe attack, so this was a chance to work on defense against it.

From there we moved to a set of 5 vs 4 half court games. The 5 side had a front row setter, MB, and OH, with the libero in 5 and a guest defensive player in 6. The 4 side had a MB and RS in the front row and a setter and OH in 6 behind. They played the win or revert game I mentioned in a recent post, starting with the score at 20-20. I had them play 2 games in the initial player configuration. I then swapped players around after each set of 2. I think overall we played 8 or 10 games.

The session wrapped up with a bit of serve & pass. The MBs took turns working on reading the setter.

Thursday
This was a long midweek road trip than I think most folks would judge reasonable – 2.5 – 3.0 hours drive. Even the opposing team coach said as much. We left Svedala at a bit after 2:00 for the 7:00 match. Granted, we generally look to get to the facility about 2 hours ahead of start time. It wasn’t a horrible ride – certainly less onerous than the one to Lindesberg on the weekend.

2015-12-03 21.00.02

The match stared out well enough. We took the first set 25-15. Then it seems like we lost focus and let the energy we had bleed away. The result was a 14-25 loss in the second set.

The first part of the third set (after a 15 minute break) started off better, but still with a few niggles. We were having problems getting a good block formed against their outside attack because we were floating. I got a bit angry after seeing it happen one more time and called timeout, during which I instructed our right side players that they were to no long swing block (which we normally do), but to do square blocking.

No, we didn’t start blocking every ball. In fact, I’m not sure if we got a single block in either the 3rd or 4th sets. And no, our blocks weren’t always perfectly formed. Heck, I’m not even sure if they did what I said (need to check the video). What did happen, though, is that we put up a consistently better block that had the opposing OHs looking to hit around them (often to get dug) or have their swings go off the block to the defense.

We ended up winning the third 25-20 and the fourth 25-16.

Blocking issues aside, there were some good positive elements to our play. Defensively, we continue to improve. Our ace/error ratio was 13/11, which is a reversal of the recent pattern. Our 3rd OH came in as a serving/defense sub in three of the sets and scored 7 points on 9 serves. We passed above a 2.00 Our two American attackers were still the only ones in double digit kills, but unlike last time when no one else has more than 2, this time they all did – and had some good swings even when they didn’t get a kill. We hit about .290 as a team, with 45% kills. In fact, if you take out the 2nd set, we were up over 50%.

We did make our fair share of poor decisions, though. Our MBs got faked out a number of times (Gislaved’s setter is good at that), including the hated jumping with the back row setter. There were also a few plays where communication broke down.

Friday
My OH2 messaged me in the afternoon saying her doctor told her to come in to be checked out Saturday. She’s been fighting an illness for weeks and was put on penicillin this week. Her doctor told her if that didn’t help her then something potentially serious may be going on and that she shouldn’t be training or playing. The ironic thing is she’s been playing some of her best volleyball in recent matches. Potentially losing her in this crunch time period was not something I wanted to hear.

Training was very light. I had them do some 4-person over-the-net pepper, then transitioned that into rotating cooperative cross-court hitting at low intensity just to move and touch balls in a relatively game-like fashion. I had them do it both swinging through 4 and through 2. After that we did some target serving. The last part of training was serve and pass with some players mixing in a bit of hitting as well.

Saturday
We hosted Engelholm following the 2nd team playing a league match of their own. My sick OH was OK to play, but it was pretty easy to see that she wasn’t really mentally prepared to do it. I made the decision to start our third OH in her place. Honestly, I wasn’t sure it was going to make too much of a difference which of them was in based on the match-ups, but the one who started has been working hard and getting better, so deserved the opportunity.

The match was up and down. We lost the first set 21-25, then won the second 25-17. After the break, we in turn got trounced in the 3rd 16-25 thanks to a really bad start. We turned it around in the fourth to take the set 25-22, then used a good start to the 5th to take it 15-10 and get 2 points.

We struggled early on to stop their big OPP, but over the course of the match gave her more problems and forced her into bad swings. She still go her fair share of points, put our pressure on them with the serve really made a difference.

Thoughts and observations
This week’s two wins actually gives us our first winning streak since back in preseason. Good time for it as it secured a spot in Gran Prix and potentially a 1st or 2nd seed.

Two matches left until the holiday break. I might look to use it to give some players a break here or there, but it will depend on how things go.

Looking at serving and blocking together

In the same edition of the AVCA Coaching Volleyball magazine as one of my own pieces there’s an article from former Nebraska head coach Terry Pettit. Did you know I interviewed Terry for Volleyball Coaching Wizards?

Anyway, Terry speaks to developing strategies and tactics. Definitely give it a read. In particular, the fourth point is one that I shared with my team:

Teams that block and serve create a third dimension. Tough serving allows a good blocking team to become a great blocking team. Volleyball is a game of runs, which are usually created by nudging the opponent toward unforced errors. While kills may be impressive, they do not demoralize an opponent nearly as much as aggressive serving and blocking.

Good serving was a major focus of mine when I coached at Exeter, and it continued to be a point of concentration at Svedala. There, though, I also had a pretty good blocking squad. We led the Swedish league in blocks per set by a large margin. That isn’t necessarily the best way to judge blocking effectiveness, but it’s a starting point.

The fun part was we were not even at our best from a technical, positioning, and timing perspective. 🙂

This is something that definitely factored into our performance at MSU in 2017.

Some thoughts on practice planning

There was a post on the AVCA blog a while back with the title of “Practice Preparation”. An NCAA Division I assistant coach wrote it. The title was a bit misleading as there wasn’t much on actual planning. The article mostly discussed a few drills/games. Unfortunately, it looks like they removed it when they revamped the AVCA website.

In any case, I found the first two particularly interesting.

The first was a timed game where the teams only score points in certain ways. The basic idea is that you have a predefined length of time for the game while also being able to focus on key areas of developmental interest. Think of it along the same lines as a bonus point game. You focus the players on certain things you want prioritized.

I might favor the bonus point approach better. That’s only because I’ve found that sometimes only allowing certain ways a team can score points leads to forcing the ball and things like that you don’t want to encourage. If you have multiple different ways to score, though, the “forcing” is mitigated.

The second game is one called 20-20 because that’s where the scoring starts. Normal play then follows up to set point. At that point, if the team going for set point fails, they go back to 20. The other team keeps their points. So for example, it the score was 24-22 and the leading team failed to score the next rally, the new scored would be 20-23.

I used that one at Svedala. We used a variation at MSU.

This coaching action – fair or foul?

In the match I coached on Saturday the opposing coach did something. I’ll be interested to hear what you think about it.

It was late in the 4th set. We were up 2-1 and leading. It might have even been match point (24-23). I can’t recall exactly and don’t have the score sheet at hand.

Anyway, they were out of timeouts. The coach called a sub to go in, but she went to the sideline holding a paddle with the number of no player currently on the court. Substitution errors like this are team delay faults, and thus earn a delay warning. During the ensuing pause as the score table recorded the warning, the other coach could be seen grinning in our direction, making it clear he had intentionally made the substitution error as a way to get a defacto timeout.

Brilliant move or unsportsmanlike?

It didn’t work, by the way.

Coaching Log – Nov 30, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

As expected, Örebro got the win against RIG over the weekend in the only Elitserie match scheduled. That moved them to the top of the table on 15 points. That’s tied with Hylte/Halmstad on points, but with one more match win. That saw Svedala start the week in 3rd on 13 points.

This week’s schedule featured three matches with Gran Prix implications. We had away matches against Hylte on Wedneday and Lindesberg (5th place on 10 points) on Saturday. On Sunday, Engelholm hosted Hylte. The two bottom teams – Sollentuna and RIG – also played on Saturday.

There was just one match for the Oresund Liga over the weekend as well. Gislaved got their first win in beating Amager 3-0. That was a good result for us as it kept Amager from catching us for 3rd in the standings. There were no matches happening this week.

Monday
We finally had a full squad in training fit and healthy once again, plus a guest player for a total of 10.We spent a bit of time at the start of training talking about Wednesday’s opposition before getting things rolling.

One of the long-term developmental needs at the individual level for this squad is being able to take a step toward the ball when digging a driven ball. I added an element to the end of warm-ups to get us more focused on that. For now it’s doing then step based on a partner thrown ball (and we need work on even doing that well), but the plan is to progress it rapidly to hit balls and to get it specifically incorporated into defensive work.

Our first primary drill was a 2-sided serve-pass-hit drill with 2 passer/hitters, a setter, and 2 servers on each half court. The passer had to hit a set they called. To give the setters some reps as well, toward the end I had our MBs setting so they could also get some setting reps.

We then shifted to a 3 v 6 drill. I had a variation on the starting team run through a couple of key rotations. First they received a serve and attacked against 3 blockers. They the 3 side ran an attack off a tossed ball to the setter on their side.

To finish with something competitive and up-tempo, we did some 22 v 22 to finish, with teams of 5. One side had defenders in 1 and 5 and the other in 5 and 6 (front row setter).

The starting setter at the beginning of training had asked to do some 6-person play to work on receive and transition offense. She was happy with being able to work on that stuff. Early on in the 3 v 6, though, I did have to get the players focused. They were a little scattered and I reminded them that after basically 3 weeks of not having the full team training together full speed hardly at all (I think just one practice), we needed to get synced back up quickly given the schedule ahead.

Tuesday
With two guest players on-hand we had 11 in training. After warm-ups and pre-hab I had the team split out so the setters could get some reps while the rest did some ball-handling. I had them do a cooperative 2 v 2 game of 2-touch with the objective of reached 21 consecutive. From there I had the MBs go with one setter and the rest with the other. The latter worked on serve-pass-hit while the former worked on quick and slide connections. About halfway through I swapped setters.

To take advantage of the numbers, and to prep for Wednesday’s match, we did 6 v 5, going through the rotations on the 6 side. We did alternating serves, with a team needing to win two rallies in a row to get a point. After one side got 3 points, we rotated.

After that, the players wanted to go more up-tempo, so we did something similar to the 3 v 6 from the night before. This time it was 5 v 6, but I ran it the same way. The 5 served to the 6 and then got a free ball play to run. Again, we ran through the rotations.

Wednesday
On the road to Halmstad Arena for the match against Hylte/Halmstad.

Halmstad

Nice facility. Wish they had a bigger crowd.

Anyway, the match started pretty ugly. We got thrashed in the first set, 25-13. Given the rough training situation of the last three weeks, I couldn’t say I was surprised. Too many hitting errors. We literally only scored points in one rotation.

I changed the rotation for the second set to have our M1 go across the front straight away (she started in 2 in the first set) because our M2 just wasn’t looking like she was going to be effective. Also, the other team clearly had a strategy of serving my O1. Turning things back put us in a position where she could focus on passing from the start without having to think as much about hitting (though she actually passed fine). We ended up winning that set 25-22, and won the third set by the same score.

Things were cruising along in the fourth set. We were up 19-13, but let them back in. They caught and passed us to win 25-23.

The fifth set saw us fall behind 5-1, but after a timeout we got things turned around. We ran off 8 straight points to go up 9-5. They fought back to 9-8. We were up 12-10, but the stayed in it. We had a serve for match point at 15-14, but our young setter who went in as a serving/defense sub, put the ball in the net. We ended up loosing 17-15.

That match point miss wasn’t the only bad error. We had a few of them in the 5th set, plus a few more in the 4th set as well. On top of that, our M1 who is our big point scorer, stopped attacking the ball aggressively. I think in the last set she only hit the ball hard once – a narrow miss on a good set. Everything else was roll shots. All together, she only had 4 kills (plus 3 errors) when she had 9 kills combined (only 1 error) in sets 2 and 3. She even had 5 kills in our horrible first set!

Basically, as was the case when we played Engelholm a month ago, we choked and got tight when we were in position to win. That said, I suppose if you asked me if I’d take a 3-2 loss – and the point that comes with it – after the way we lost the first set, I probably would have said “Yes”.

Thursday
Not so much Thanksgiving action for me this year. In the morning I went to Lund to pick up a printed copy of my PhD thesis from one of our part-time players who goes to school there. I then spent the rest of the day in the library getting work done. Did have a turkey sandwich for lunch, though!

Friday
After the tough match on Wednesday and with an eye toward our long day up coming on Saturday, I kept training fairly low intensity. We started off talking about the match. Mostly, I did the talking about needing the courage to stay aggressive and continue to play the way we got ahead in the first place when in those sorts of situations again. The team also brought up the thought that part of the issue with our “choking” has been that communication faded when we were up – meaning we were getting complacent. We also went over the scouting for the next match. After that, basically it was the same 1-hour structure we use for our home match day serve and pass sessions.

Saturday
We left home shortly after 7:00 and stopped for lunch about 45 minutes out from our destination – Lindesberg. Got there just about 2:00 for the 4:00 match. Following on from Friday’s conversation, we focused a lot on keeping the communication going from start to finish.

The first set was fairly back and forth. We made more errors than we should have, but eventually we got on top to win 25-21. In the second set were were in control just about throughout, resulting in a 25-17 win.

The break was 15 minutes, which really didn’t do us any favors. Our starting setter was already feeling the long van trip in her back, and our O1 developed some kind of muscle strain or something near her knee early on. The break only served to cause them to tighten up. No doubt helped by that, we had some struggles in the third set and were down 21-14. We narrowed the gap dramatically, though, and only ended up losing 25-22. We might have been able to do even better were it not for a missed serve.

The four set saw us get back on top of them. I think it was 19-13, before they started their own late rally. A couple of consecutive passing errors by our O1 helped them get uncomfortably close, but we finished it off 25-23.

I was quite happy with our defense overall. We quickly adapted to their play and were able to dig a lot of balls. Our block was a bit inconsistent, though we still had 11 total on the match officially (on the bench we counted 13). There were just times when we allowed the opposing hitter to absolutely bomb the ball because our positioning wasn’t right. By the numbers, we’re the best blocking team in the league by a healthy margin, but we can get better.

Our serving can still get better as well (we also lead the league in a aces/set). We had 14 errors in the match. Two players accounted for 8 of them, though. One is my M1 who has struggled all season. She can go on strings of points, but then miss her next three serves. The other is our OPP who is working to develop her jump serve. I encouraged her to try it early in the match, which didn’t work out. Oh, well. She’ll get better.

It was a long trip back after that. I didn’t get home until nearly 2:00.

Thoughts and observations
Hopefully, being able to hold Lindesberg off when they rallied back on Saturday is a step in the right direction in terms of tackling the tentativeness that has crept in to our play in those situations. I didn’t see the same sort of hesitancy, though I did see a bit of hyperactive stuff creep back in. We made a few foolish decisions. Need to find the middle zone.

Our libero has been noticeably more active in directing things in serve reception. Noticing that, for Saturday’s match I gave her some additional authority. Lindesberg has a strong jump server (though inconsistent). I told the libero that she should feel free to bring the OPP and/or MB in to cover parts of the court if she thought it was the right thing to do. It was something I reinforced during a timeout when that server had had a couple of good serves. She did pull the OPP to take the line ball. We ended up winning that rally because the server didn’t giver herself a great toss.

What type of defense do you run?

I was asked by a reader what type of defense I use with my team and my thoughts on the subject.

Generally speaking, my starting point is the perimeter defense. This is a structure where the back row defenders play toward the edges of the court. That’s where most of the hard attacked balls go when there’s a decent block. Some also call this a middle-back defense. I start there because it’s something most players have played and understand well.

From there, though, I think about things in two ways.

Personnel

There are certain player requirements to play a perimeter defense (or any other, for that matter). For example, the defender in 6 needs to be a good reader and able to move well laterally. Not every player is suited to that role. For example, I had an Exeter player who was very aggressive in attacking the ball played in front of her. She did not, however, move laterally well. That mandated she play defense in 5 rather than 6.

You’re also thinking about things like your block and potential back row attack. When I coached at Brown in the libero’s early days, we didn’t do much by way of back row attacking. We generally played our OHs in 5 and our Libero in 6. The idea there was that the OHs were basically specialists in digging cross-court balls. We made a change, though, because our block channeled balls cross-court and we wanted our best digger – our libero – in position to play them.

Opposition

Sometimes you want to change things up to better defend against certain teams or types of attacks. The rotation defense in which the defender in 1 one covers tips, and the defender in 6 rotates toward the line, can be used to defend against teams that play a lot of shots. We did this at Exeter against weaker teams at times. At Brown we actually used a type of rotation defense against teams that liked to attack line to have a better digger in that position. At Svedala we looked to use a rotation defense when we had our smaller second string setter playing to have more line defense when she was front row.

Of course you have to consider all the implications. Using a rotation defense tends to get your front row OH out of having to play balls way into the court – which makes it hard for them to then attack. At the same time, though, it likely means your setter having to play more first balls.

The bottom line

At the end of the day you want to put your players in the positions they are best suited to play within the context of a general block-defensive philosophy related to what you expect to see from the teams you play. Consider how you view the objective of defense and position your players accordingly.

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