I had an email come in from Jason, a volleyball coach working with a young team. He asked:

1) How do I teach the girls to read the placement and velocity of the ball on a serve and have them move to the ball quickly enough? I’m finding they tend to keep their feet planted to the floor as if there was lead in them shoes…..and when they do make an effort to get there they end up leaning forward instead of getting “under” or swinging their arm out sideways from their body instead of squaring themselves with the ball.

2) What’s the best system to play with grade 8 girls?

Here are my, thoughts. I encourage readers to share their own via comment below.

Anticipation and moving to the ball in serve receive

In terms of reading placement and velocity, unfortunately a lot of that is going to come straight from experience. The best you can do is to try to get them to look at the server instead of just the ball. They need to think about where she’s facing, how hard she hits the ball, etc. Beyond that, it’s really about each player going through lots and lots of reps. They need to see serves coming at them from different angles and at different tempos. That’s the only way to develop the anticipation and timing. It’s the same as a hitter needing to see lots of sets at different heights and angles to develop their approach and swing timing. Have them pass loads and loads of balls – and more specifically, loads and loads of balls coming over the net. And remember that feedback is important.

Feet seemingly pinned the floor is a problem for any coach dealing with beginning players. The mentality many of them have is “If the ball comes to me, I’ll play it, otherwise I won’t.” We coaches don’t tend to do ourselves any favors in that regard by having players work in relatively static drills. We tell them, “You stand there in this position and I’ll toss the ball right to you.” That’s why it’s important to introduce movement to the ball once the basics of passing mechanics are figured out. Put them in situations where they know the ball is theirs, but they can’t be sure exactly where it will be. Then put them in combinations to force communication and coordinated movement.

Best playing system

My answer would be different if competitive considerations were a big factor (whether they should be for U14s is an entirely different conversation). I am going to take a long-term development approach in answering this question, however. I think it is most appropriate.

You can read my fuller discussion of system selection, but let me share an abbreviated version here.

Volleyball England, as part of their Talent Pathway, outlined a system progression which is aimed at doing a couple of things (I bring up V.E. because I’ve actually seen the documents, though no doubt other countries have similar ideas). First, it tries to develop the most well-rounded players possible. Second, it seeks to identify and develop a large number of setters. With those two priorities in mind, the progression of playing systems Volleyball England favors is 6-6 for young players, 4-2/6-2 for the U16/U17 (Cadet) age group, and finally 5-1 when reaching the U18/U19 level.

As you ponder that system progression, think about the requirements on players. Think especially about FIVB rules which constrain substitutions more than is the case under some other rule systems.

It’s fairly easy to think about a 6-6 basically meaning every player does all skills. You start to get partial specialization when shifting to a 2-setter system. The setters are only setting in 3 rotations, however, so they still have the other front/back row responsibilities. Not only does that keep the “well-rounded” aspect of things going, but it also means you develop several setters. You’d want 3-4 in a squad rather than the 2 you could get away with running a 1-setter system. Specialization doesn’t fully come in until the late-teen years when they are running a 5-1. I think that is where the libero is also introduced, though I might be wrong.

There is room in system to start specialization in some ways a little early, but you don’t want to lock players in at 13-14 years old. And you don’t want them locking themselves in either. The overarching idea should still be to try to develop as much all-around ability as possible.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

    2 replies to "Playing system for U14s, and how to get them to move!"

    • Michael Hawke

      I have run a 6-3 system at 14U that I like very much. The rotation alternates between setters and hitters so you have 3 setters and 3 hitters on the court. When a ‘setter’ is in court position 3 or 2 then they are the designated setter. This means that a ‘setter’ gets to hit when they rotate into court position 4. This also allows setters to learn to set all the hitting positions. When a setter is in 3, they set OH and OPP but when they rotate to set out of 2 then they set OH and Middle.

      Permanently assigning the setter and hitter roles is a choice you can make as a coach but with a new bunch of kids, I like to mix these roles up. Try running this system for a practice and I think you’ll see that the kids pick it up pretty fast and there are lots of good things that come from it. In my 20 years of coaching, I have often been dead wrong about what positions my players eventually excel at so I try not to specialize at 14U even if that makes my team less competitive. I take the view that as a club coach, my job is not to make my 14U’s into the best 14U players they can be. My job is to turn them into the best 18U players they can be and if that takes 4 years then so be it.

      • John Forman

        Hear, hear Michael!

Please share your own ideas and opinions.