Tag Archive for assessment

Coaching Log – Nov 23, 2015

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

This being week 8 of the regular season, it’s the end of the initial weight training cycle and the program I gave the team. As a result, I had the players re-test their bench and squat weights for comparison and we did another set of physical evaluations at the start of Friday’s training.

There was only one league match set for this week. Örebro hosted RIG on Saturday, with the home team strongly favored. That will leave Örebro with the bottom team, Sollentuna, and Gislaved, who haven’t beaten any but the bottom two thus far, as their remaining schedule before the break. The Gislaved match is away, which could be tricky, but they still have an excellent shot at getting 9 more points, pushing their total to 21. That would certainly qualify them for Gran Prix.

That means it is very likely down to Engelholm, Hylte, Lindesberg, and Svedala as to who gets the other three places. Lindesberg has an edge in that they have matches against RIG and Sollentuna to pad their point total. All of us play each other at least once (we play Hylte twice), though, so we’ll decide things head-to-head – as you’d like it to be.

As usual, training started with a bit of talk about the prior match and our path forward. After warm-ups and a variation on volley tennis, we did a serving exercise. It focused on serving the seams, with the players have an objective getting to 10. To focus on making our mistakes long rather than in the net, serves that didn’t go over were a -1.

We transitioned from there to serving and passing. Because of our struggles with Rotation 1, we focused on that. Hitters and setters rotated through, with the sets going to the MB or the hitter/passer in 4. In line with a concern I’ve had the last couple weeks, our passing wasn’t great. We’re having technical issues when we have to move for the ball. Platforms are just not holding their angle to target. The tricky part of it all is that we’ve had issues with serves that tend to drop short, which encourages playing shorter. That then means having to move back.

Training wrapped up with Winners 3s. We only went maybe 75 minutes all in all.

One of the core group was out sick, but we had three additional bodies to bring it up to 11. That’s not as many as I was expecting, but the additional players definitely made a difference – both in terms of allowing me to do some different things and in the overall energy of the session. One of the things I wanted to do was to keep the number of jumps down for certain players while still being able to work on developmental issues, so I structured things with that in mind.

After warm-up and prehab activities, I split the group out. The setters and MBs went on a side court to work on their connections while the libero and pin hitters were on center court working on passing. In the case of the latter, I had them do a version of the serving and passing triples. I wanted them to work specifically on having to move back for the ball, so I had the passer start at the 3m line and the server (who was only at about mid court) serving deepish balls. I set up the video delay to focus on the passers so they could look to check their mechanics.

This was then carried over when I brought the whole group together and had everyone else serving to the primary passers. Since there were four in the rotation, they could look to the replay as they stepped off the court after a pass. I felt like passing on the whole was better and the players did feel like having the replay helped them focus on their technique more.

Next up was the continuous cross-court digging drill. After some relatively static stuff – especially for the passers – I wanted to up the intensity while obviously also working on digging the ball.

From there we moved on to a variation of Speedball Winners on a narrow court. I had fixed setters and MBs, with the winners part being the 2 players playing with them. Along with continuing the earlier setter/MB connection work from earlier, it also got in some blocking and additional defense in preparation for the full team play which followed.

The last part of training was some 22 v 22 play. I had the team of 6 in Rotation 4, which has consistently been our weakest rotation in both point scoring and serve reception. We played one game with the 6 receiving and one with them serving. I then had back-up setter switch in and played one more with the 6 receiving.

I had a trio of players out of training for various health reasons, leaving me with just six. In talking with the captain we decided to just have them do their normal weight training session. In the end, though, they decided they wanted to do a bit of serving and passing work, with a little hitting thrown in for a couple of them. It probably went about 90 minutes all together.

I had two players out – one still sick and the other with a family emergency that arose right before practice (or at least that’s when she told me about it). We had a guest player to give us 8. As planned, we started with re-doing the physical assessments we did back at the beginning. That included a star type agility drill, a T test at the net, singled and triple broad jumps, and a sequence of medicine ball throws. We added a vertical leap test using the My Jump app on my iPad. This was my first time using it. Basically, it measures jump height by calculating time from takeoff to landing.

The first part of training wasn’t really impacted too much by the late player drop. I had them do some serving and passing. Unfortunately, both of the missing players are OHs, and thus primary passers, so that didn’t work out quite the way I had planned, but generally served the purpose.

After that I’d planned on doing a back row only Winners 3s. I shifted that to Speedball with teams of 2 on a narrow court. I then had them play a game to 15 in 4 v 4 fashion. This was still back row attacking only, though each side had a front row setter.

The last 30 minutes or so of training was dedicated to a constrained 4 v 4 with rallies initiated by alternating down balls. At first I had MB-OH-L-S on one side (Setter in 1) against MB-RS-S-DS with the DS in 6. I flipped the setters, and MBs around, and had the RS flip between front and back row. I later moved the DS from the second side over into 5 so the opposing side could hit cross court (but not to 6).

Thoughts and observations
Such a massive difference between training with 11 as we did on Tuesday and only training with 8 the rest of the week. Not only does it give me more options for developing training, there’s better energy. I’m doing everything I can to get more players in practice, but it’s a struggle.

Too much thinking about the opponent

There was an article a while back about the concept of Big Game Syndrome. It focuses on football, but the idea applies to any sport.

The article describes Big Game Syndrome as a situation where a team or coaching staff feels they must do even more work and be even more uptight than usual when facing a perceived important game or match. The prime example provided was football teams facing the New England Patriots. The view is that they need to do something extra special to outsmart Bill Belichick. The result is decision-making which goes down poor paths.

While coaching in Sweden once, I found myself wondering if I’d succumb to a version of Big Game Syndrome with respect to my team’s matches. We spent the better part of a week talking about that match. In particular, we focused on the other team’s big attacker. The result was that we were probably too focused on the other team and not focused enough on us.

Of course there are times when looking for any possible edge you can find to win is important. To my mind, though, I felt afterwards like I made the mistake of doing that sort of thing at a time when our focus should have been the development of our game.

On the face of it, the fact we went up 2-0 suggests I was wrong. Maybe we spent the right amount of time on scouting and game planning. The fact of the matter is, though, we won those sets despite not playing very well. This was especially in the first set. We didn’t get a kill until our 10th attack. The other team kept us in it by missing a bunch of serves.

The over-thinking element came into play later in the match. We felt the pressure of trying to fend the other team off when we had late leads. It made us hesitant and cautious and led to some poor decisions.

Coaching Log – Oct 26, 2015

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

Generally speaking, the weekend league results went probably about as might be expected. Gislaved won 3-0 over the youngsters at RIG and Lindesberg won 3-0 over Sollentuna. We might have expected Örebro to have a harder time with Engleholm than a 3-0, but they seemed to be able to contain Engelholm’s main attacker. This was of interest to us as we played the latter on Tuesday.

Those results have the league table looking very top-heavy, though Hylte/Halmstad and Svedala remain on top despite playing one fewer match.

ElitserieTable-18 Nov. 2015

Click for full-sized version

Obviously, it’s too early to make any real strong forecasts, but the distribution of results so far does tend to suggest it will be a 6-team race for the four places available in the Gran Prix. Those spots are based on the first half of league play, which basically means up to the December break.

As noted, Engelholm was on our schedule for Tuesday – at their place. This is one of the domestic matches which also counts toward standing in the Oresundliga. A win would see us go top of both that and the Elitserie.

Had a sick player, so only 9 healthy bodies in training. I allowed the players to determine a warm-up exercise to do. They opted for a new variation on volley tennis. From there the focus was on preparation for Tuesday’s match, but mainly from the perspective of working on long-term developmental needs as well.

After getting their shoulders warmed up for serving, I had them do some serving against a 4-person reception formation, which is what we were expecting to primarily see in Tuesday’s match. I used boxes to have them work on hitting the seams.

From there we did some serving and passing with one setter and a MB in to have the latter working on hitting the corners. This is something that we observed would likely be successful against Tuesday’s opposition, but is something I’ve wanted to get our MBs better at generally anyway.

After that we did a cooperative cross-court drill with the attacking from 2. I had the two MBs and the libero rotating around through the setting positions on both sides. The two starting OHs stayed in 6 while the Setters and OPPs flipped back and forth between positions 1 and 2. Again, this was to work on something defensively for Tuesday, but we also could stand the work on defense on that side of the court in any case.

Next up was back court attack Winners 3s. The last part of the session was a team serve reception through all 6 rotations with 3 blockers. Myself and the team manager were the servers. The focus was on attacking to certain areas of the court.

Overall, I think it was a good preparation session for the next day’s match.

Really tough match. We went up 2-0 in the match, and were up late in both sets 3 and 4, but ended up losing. A case could be made that we didn’t deserve on our own merits to have the 2-0 lead, but the other team made a lot of mistakes – especially in serve – to keep us in contention. At different points they swapped both their setter and libero. We definitely struggled to contain their strong OPP but my feeling overall was that we tightened up at the end of the 3rd and 4th sets and were playing not to lose.

The official match stats are a joke, so I can’t really use them for much in the way of analysis. Our bench stats point to major struggles scoring in Rotations 1 and 6 (using the international rotation labeling system based on where the setter is). In prior matches were were consistently above 50% overall, but this time only Rotation 5 was that high. That was our starting rotation, so it’s a positive from that perspective (and we sided out at 77%). Those other two rotations were below 30% in terms of point scoring, and in the case of Rotation 1 we sided out less than 50% as well. Despite passing only 1.80 for the match as a team, we still managed to side out at 57%. Admittedly, that was boosted by all the opposition’s missed serves.

I’m going to need to really go over the video and re-stat the match myself (probably at least the other Elitserie matches we’ve played as well) to do a thorough analysis . Generally speaking, though, we continue to suffer from a lack of composure. There were a number of inexplicable errors and poor decisions.

Despite the loss, we still temporarily went to the top of the standings in the Elitserie on the basis of earning a point for winning two sets. We also got a point in the Oresundliga, where we now sit 3rd.

I sat the team down before training to talk about the previous night’s match. It was a positive, productive meeting. There was a sense of anger about losing, but no one was down about it. Everyone was eager to move forward and get better.  I started it off by getting the observations of the players who were on the bench. Communication and defensive responsibility issues were mentioned. We talked about playing not to lose and getting too conservative in crunch time.

One of the more interesting parts of the discussion was on ways to improve training. There was talk about trying to incorporate more positional relationships in the game-like exercises – meaning making the line-ups more closely approximate match-day rotations. The issue there is not overworking players and trying to give them opportunities to be challenged in all their roles, which is the tricky part of having such a limited roster. I need to give the MBs breaks and I need to give my OHs the chance to play back row as well as front row.

We also talked about incorporating more drills in training. Not surprisingly, the desire for “more reps” motivated this from the player perspective. In parallel, though, my American OH expressed her feeling that the load of the game play exercises was too high for her – that by the latter parts of training she was telling our setter not to give her the ball. The players may not have realized this, but we have actually been doing more drills in training since the season started. The point on the game-play load is one I need to think more about. In particular, it occurs to me that perhaps the small-sided stuff I usually do before we shift to full-team games could be dropped or cut back – or counted as part of the game-play portion of training if I’m using them to focus on specific elements.

The actually training after the meeting was meant to mainly be recovery oriented – work on a few technical things and generally keep the bodies active. After they warmed-up and played a bit of volley tennis, I split out the setters to do some reps. For the American setter it was to work on the consistency of her sets for the OHs – each of which needs a slightly different height. For the young Swedish setter it was about working on her mechanics, in particular on her back sets. While that was going on, the rest of the players played 2 v 2 games of 2-touch.

After that, I brought everyone together for what was a serving and passing focused game at it’s core, but with a couple other elements. Each side had a MB and Setter front row, with an OH, Libero, and OPP in the back row. The teams alternated serving. The primary objective was to run the MBs on front and back quicks, but if that wasn’t on, they could attack out of the back row. We thus had the passers focused on getting good passes so the MBs could run their attacks, and the middles had a chance to attack against a solid 3-person defense to work on finding the gaps. The energy and attitudes were good. The passers did well, resulting in the middles getting some really nice swings.

I had planned for a few weeks to give everyone this day off. We don’t have a match until next Saturday and for the most part haven’t had more than a single day off at a time since we started training. The Swedish players primarily work or go to school, so for them it was a break to do some of their own things. For the Americans it was a few clear days to do whatever (they had talked about taking a trip) – and to allow aching bodies to recover some. I told them after Wednesday’s training to make sure they stayed active so that Monday’s training wasn’t some kind of shock to the system.

Thoughts and observations
Losses are great motivators for change. I’ve been feeling like in some ways we were winning despite our performance. To a certain degree, that was even true in the first part of Tuesday’s match when we won the first set in large part because the other team made so many errors. I’ve identified some of the broader issues in need of focus before (e.g. lack of composure), so in this case it’s not about a major change in concentration.

That said, I do feel like I need to really map out where I want the team to be going into the play-offs. Then it becomes a question of getting buy-in from the team and plotting the path toward that destination.

Other stuff
I spent a lot of the latter part of the week trying to sort through video and statistical analysis options, applications, and efforts. We have access to a very basic version of DataVolley (Media) which has no video integration. Part of what I was trying to do was learn about the options we might be able to use to overcome that and to get to the point where I can do a more specific analysis of different segments of play. Because of my internet access limitations, it took me a LONG time getting the match video from Tuesday downloaded so I could share it with the team and go through an do my own analysis (and eventually to pull individual player clips).

I was approached by our second team coach on Friday about using up to 6 of the first team players on a Svedala team for a national U23 tournament the first weekend of November. We have no matches then (because of said tournament), and nothing until the following Sunday, so no issue on my end. It’s up to the players if they want to take part.

Coaching Log – Sep 28, 2015

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

Here’s how things went over the final week of pre-season:

I had one player message me on Sunday night saying she’d miss the first couple trainings of the week because she was back home in Stockholm with her family having a think about her situation because of some stuff going on off-the-court. Not exactly the sort of thing a coach wants to be getting after the fact. I told her in the future that I wanted to hear about this sort of thing ahead of time so that maybe I could help, and if not it would at least not be a surprise (a view echoed by the team manager). Needless to say, this went to the top of my list of things to talk with the team about that night.

We actually talked about a couple of different things at the start of training. Most of it was related to Saturday’s match. I let the players talk about what they thought and then added my own impressions. The two main ones were becoming a more aggressive, committed team on defense and making an adjustment to how we do hitting in the pre-match warm-up to encourage more reaching and hitting high rather than hitting balls right over the top of the net.

Only 9 players for training. I did a mix of slower tempo and faster tempo activities. It started with 21, which is on the slow side. The players struggled to complete it and I eventually stopped the drill to talk with them about the need for focus on skill execution in that sort of circumstance. In the end, only one of the three groups finished before I moved on to new things.

I introduced the Belly Drill next. After going through a non-scoring period to get them familiar with how it works, I tried something I’ve never done before. We did a kind of negative scoring system where a team earned a point for losing a rally. The first team to 21 ended the drill. We did back row attacking only, so there were some lengthy rallies. That made for a slightly longer game than I had planned, but it was fine. I liked how it played out in terms of encouraging a lot of scrambling on defense and forcing players to try to problem solve winning rallies. I also liked that it gave me an opportunity to give players a second ball right away after they’ve made an error.

We slowed things down again after that and did some serving and passing. Initially, I had the setters working with the middles off the passes. After that I also rotated the pin hitters through.

The last 10 minutes was spent playing Winners 3s on a narrow court.

Had 10 again for this training. After pre-hab, some partner pepper, and a serving warm-up, I did a serving and passing drill. On each side there was a setter, a pair of passers from the group of OHs and the Libero, plus a target for the setter and a server from the MB and RS group. I had the passers in 5 and 6 with the server first going from 1 and then from 5. The initial server did 10 good balls, then swapped with the target. The objective was to keep the passers working on communication, while giving the other players a chance to work on their own skills.

From there I had them do Speedball 2s (with fixed setters) on a narrow court as a game play warm-up. The rest of training was work on Rotations 2 and 5 (setter in 2, setter in 5), which were ones I identified from the rotation scoring stats of Saturday’s match as likely needing some attention. I did this through a series of mini games to 7 points with one side in each of the rotations. The Rotation 2 side had a libero back row with the setter, so they played 1 & 6 defense. The Rotation 5 side had a MB and OH back row playing in 5 & 6. I had the teams only attack in the direction of the defenders. Each mini game featured only on side serving. They played two of those games, then I rotated the 3 MBs, 3 OHs, and 2 setters alternatively. I think that means we played 5 or 6 pairs of games in total.

It was a pretty loose session in terms of the players being pretty relaxed and having fun (and the watching parents having a few laughs), but I still did a fair amount of coaching in terms of stopping things quickly at times to make a point or to talk through a positioning question.

Only 9 at training again this time. We share the gym with the second/Juniors team for about 30 minutes these nights as they wrap up their session. Because the players have basically just come from weight training, there’s not much need for a real warm-up. Because we’re on a side court with limited space on the ends and one side, what we can do is constrained. I’ve taken to beginning things with a game – a 2-ball, doubles version of bagger tennis (volley tennis). Basically, each team has someone underhand serve to the other side so that two balls are in play at the same time, with two players on each side. The players love it and get quite competitive.

After that, still working on the side court, we did did team cross-court pepper. Having 9 players with just one setter, I set it up to the setter was fixed on one side for the first half, then switched to the other side. That means the other side had a player rotating through setting. I also had fixed liberos in position 5.

My original plan was to play Winners 3s on the full court once the other group was done, or maybe the Belly Drill. We did play Winners, but with a twist. We grabbed some of the Juniors and mixed them in with the squad to make teams of four or five. The younger players could mainly only stay for about 15 minutes, so that was how long we let it run. It was a good, positive environment.

After that I had the players work through rotations 2, 3, and 6. With only 9 bodies, I had to set it up as MB, RS, OH, and L on each side. I set the mini games up so that one team served each ball, and the receiving team had the setter. After the initial ball, I then hit a down ball to the libero of the serving side. Along with working on those particular rotations, these games also involved a lot of work on out-of-system attacking.

I was done with what I wanted to do after about 90 minutes, so I gave the players the opportunity to work on some other stuff. They ended up doing a bunch of serving and passing with the MBs doing some hitting and blocking work in conjunction. I had my young MB play around with running a front slide.

Off to Denmark to start the Time Vision Cup preseason tournament, hosted by Brøndby Volleyball Klub. The opposition for our first match was Swedish defending champions Engelholm. We’d heard they were struggling a bit in their preseason matches, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. The team were looking forward to the match, though.

The tournament structure was round-robin pool play (2 pools of 4) over the first two days, with cross-over matches on Sunday. Each match was three sets to 25, regardless of results. My plan was to rotate the players more or less regardless of results. I began with what I expect to be our starting 7 in the first set, which we won fairly easily – mostly thanks to effective serving. Our young middle began the set with several points straight away, many aces, and that set the tone.

In the second set I swapped out the setter, libero, and right side positions. This set was closer, but we still won without too much difficulty. In the last set I started with the first set line-up, but brought in the second set subs midway through (except setter, as our young setter was a bit sick). We ended up dropping a close one, mainly because we struggled to get our block right against their one very strong attacker (OPP). That had me thinking about whether I should have played around with the match-ups a bit to see how it would have gone with our stronger hitting and blocking OH against her most of the time.

This was a two match day against the two Danish teams in our pool. We got to see them play a bit before our match on Friday. Neither could really match us in terms of the power of our attack, but both were pretty scrappy. This day I had an extra MB and had my second libero mix in a bit at OH to give some players a break. What I decided to do was to go starters in the first set. In the second set I put the reserve MB in for the younger MB, and then put the younger one in for our American MB in the 3rd set. I had the two liberos split the first two sets, then switched the second one to OH for the third set and had her go in for the American OH. The two RS players each played a full set out of the first two, then about equally split time the 3rd set. The American setter set the first two sets with the young Swedish one acting as a serving sub. The latter then set the third set herself, meaning it was an All-Sweden third set for us in both matches.

Team Køge was up first. Not a particular big team, but solid on defense. They gave us some trouble and fought really hard. We won all three sets, but it was 22, 23, and 23 and we had to come from behind each set. The serving subs I used did a good job and really helped get us over the top.

Amager was the opposition in the second set. We’ll see them again in the Oresund Liga. They beat Team Køge the prior day thanks to having a bit more offense. We made pretty short work of them in the first two sets, though, mainly through strong serving. We did lose the third set 26-28, but had needed to come back to get it to even make it that close. There might have been a bit of a focus slip there, as having won all three matches already by winning the first two sets, we had already assured ourselves of being in the title match.

The interesting question is what I would have done if we hadn’t won the first two sets. My plan all along was to rotate the MBs and the OHs to give the American players a bit of a break. If we needed to win the third set I probably would have kept the American setter in, especially given that the young Swedish one was still under the weather.

Hylte/Halmstad won the other pool, so was our opposition in Sunday’s final match. Like Engelholm, they are a team we’ll see at least 4 times during the Swedish season. We saw them play between our two matches on Saturday. The impression was that they were a good blocking team with some legit weapons in attack. I figured it would make for an interesting challenge for the team.

My approach to this one was treat it like the championship match it was in terms of playing to win, though for me it was still very much an evaluation opportunity. We again began the match with the presumed starters in, and promptly fell quickly behind. The energy wasn’t great. The players weren’t talking so much. We got blocked a couple times early. In the end we dropped that one 15-25.

I kept the same line-up to start the second set, but rather than starting with our setter in 5, I spun the rotation and had her start in 3 to get our stronger OH at the net. We ended up winning easily, 25-19. The rotation change may have been a factor in terms of favorable match-ups, but I think more important was the players talking through adjustments, who to go after in serve and attack, etc.

We were pretty in control for most of third set as well, using the same line-up and rotation from the second set. I did call a timeout at I think 21-20 when we’d let them creep back on us, but we ended up winning 25-22. We ended up with 15 blocks in the match, which is more than we had all of Saturday.

I would have liked to have won the first two sets again to allow me to give the back-up players a full set in the third, but I think getting slapped around in the first set actually may end up paying off in terms of getting the team to be more engaged from the start. I used all three of the bench players in at least two sets each (the first went so fast I didn’t really get a chance) and they were all effective, which is good.

Thoughts and observations
It’s always nice to get the season off to a winning start, especially when you know you aren’t playing anywhere near where you’ll be later if the players stay healthy and all that. My big focus in preseason was in getting the players working together as a unit, which they definitely did during the tournament. Now the focus will shift to working on developing some specific technical abilities, improving and expanding our defensive tactics, and refining our offensive capabilities.

Other stuff
Saturday is our first league match of the year against Örebro. We haven’t played them, so our scouting will have to be from player recollections and some video of them playing in preseason that is apparently available.

The team manager was with me on the bench for all the matches using SoloStats 1-2-3 on my iPad mini to keep track of passing and the rally-ending plays. That doesn’t give us the figures to come up with something like hitting percentages, but it does produce a fair amount of useful information on performance and rotational analysis. I’ve played around with it before, but this is the first time it’s gotten serious use. We’ll have proper stats during the matches moving forward, but it might be worth keeping in use anyway. We’ll see.

Coaching Log – Sep 7, 2015

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

I returned to Sweden on August 30th. The weekend was primarily spent in a combination of meeting with the three American players in the squad and getting my new housing situation sorted out. The latter remains a work in progress.

Here’s how things went over the first week as far as the volleyball is concerned:

This training session, which was in our alternative gym, was all about starting the players getting to know each other and shaking off the off-season rust. As a result, I focused a lot on getting them all lots of touches and including a lot of game play. You can see the training plan I used here. I had the 10 players committed to the squad, plus one from last year who is expected to train periodically with the team and maybe help out with the coaching.

I had a team meeting immediately prior to practice. The focus was on the sorts of things I expect to see in training and what the players can expect from me.

The actual session, which was in our main gym, still had as a primary focus the “getting to know each other” and “shaking off the rust” elements. We had all the players from Monday, plus a young setter in the mix as well to make 12 (3 setters, 3 middles, 1 true right side, 2 true outsides, 1 libero, and 2 OH/Ls). That gave me the opportunity to do some 6 v 6 play for about the last hour of training. I used the 22 v. 22 game, and rotated the players around quite a bit.

The lead up to the 6 v 6 started with serving, and then serving and passing in groups of 6 on 2 courts. I included the middles and setters in the passing. Along the way, though, I learned that I should plan anything serving-focused for when we’re using the main court because when we’re using a multiple court set-up there isn’t enough approach room for the jump/jump float servers.

After serving and passing we moved to 6-person diagonal over-the-net team pepper.  I kept the players in the same 2-court split from before. They started with both sides attacking through 4, but they also worked 4 and 2, 2 and 2, and 2 and 4 to get all the angles. At then end I had them return to 4 and 4 and shift from cooperative to competitive. One of the groups was struggling during the first phase, so at a point I had them get together and talk through finding a solution.

From there we shifted to Speedball winners with 4 teams of 3 that I assigned. That started with backrow attacks only. About halfway through I opened it up.

Up to this point we hadn’t really talked about offensive play-calling, seam responsibility, switching, and other team related stuff. I wanted to force maximum communication and interaction as part of the team-building process by having them work that stuff out among themselves.

This day started with the players together in the fitness club doing their weights work. I haven’t given them a specific plan yet, so just had them carry on with the program they’ve been using. After a 30 minute break we were together in the main hall for training. I’m not overly thrilled by by that scheduling, but it does give the team a chance to workout together (they mostly do weights on their own in small groups because of individual schedule considerations), and I will probably use it to check on technique from time to time. It does mean, though, that Wednesday trainings likely won’t be ones where I’d want to do much technical work because they will already be somewhat fatigued.

The other aspect to Wednesday’s trainings is that we have about a 45 minute overlap with the 2nd team at the start of our session. Since physically they were already warmed-up, I had them start off with what I guess is called Brazilian 2-ball volley tennis (teams of 2, 2 balls in play, the team that wins both balls gets the point, else it’s a wash). It was something they could do on the side court that would get them mentally engaged and competitive. I had the 10 core players and they opted to split on the basis of age. The younger group go out to a lead, but eventually the older ones caught up and ended up winning 10-9.

After that fun, I shifted them to a less fun exercise – the Hard Drill with the count holds as long as the ball remains in play variation in force and with rotation (no fixed setter). They did it fairly easily initially, then I told them to do it again and only count “good reps” on legit swings and balls set with hands. That took them a while, and at one point I had them stop and meet to talk things over. Eventually they got it, though only because I didn’t halt rallies on 3m line violations. I told them next time we do the exercise those will be rally-enders, which they seemed to readily accept.

I then had them do some target serving on the main court, which was now free. They were required to complete 5 sets of serving first to Zone 1 and then to Zone 2, and 5 sets serving first to Zone 5 and then to Zone 4. They had to get both in that order to count. I did timed. Some of them were able to finish one pair of zones, but no one did both.

After that we played Bingo-Bango-Bongo. Since we only had teams of 5, I had to make some rules. The two defined libero’s were fixed in the back row and everyone else rotated around them. When the middles were front row the teams played 3 front, 2 back, but when the middles were back row they played 2 front, 3 back.

I meant to do another round of target serving after that, but forgot and instead went straight into another 5 v 5 game. It was one where the teams alternated 2 serves (from players in the same back row position – e.g. the setters). They then played to 7 points in this fashion. I think we played 4 total games with me flipping OHs and S/OPPs each game and having the setters switch sides after two games. I’d planned on going a bit longer, but they were looking a bit weary, so I called it quits a bit early.

No training. This is our regular day off.

This is a 3 hour time slot, though we got going a little late because of train issues. I just had the core 10 players. After they warmed up, I put the team through a pair of agility tests (‘T’ and a cone touch exercise) and did a pair of sets of measurements. One was broad jump and then 3 consecutive broad jumps. The other was medicine ball throws from lying on the back, from one knee, and then from two knees. The main objective was to evaluate plyometric fitness. I wanted to also measure jumping from a loaded position (already squatted) vs. jumping from with the full counter motion, but there was a technology fail, so I’ll have to try that another time.

Once we got to the volleyball, the main focus was on getting the offensive terminology and signal calling sorted out. We did that initially between the setters and middles while the others were doing a team pepper exercise on the other court. We then brought that into a team context by doing some 5 v 5 game play, which always started with a serve. To say the serve reception passing wasn’t good might be an understatement.

This was just a 2 hour slot, again with only the core group of 10. My main focus was on reinforcing the offensive stuff developed on Friday, so after warming-up with some serving and some half-court 2 v 2 with fixed setters, I had them play Speedball winners. In this case, the setters were fixed, so there were 4 teams of 2 which I designated. Additionally, I had the requirement that the non-passer/digger was to run a quick attack while the other hit either a 2nd tempo or high ball.

We then did some Second Chance game play 5 v 5 with the setters and liberos back row. Initially I had the libero’s in 6, so we constrained the attacking to 5/6. In this case the MBs took the second ball on a setter dig. After a while, I moved the liberos to 5 and had them take the 2nd ball (and said no hitting to 6). It turned out that the second chance proved quite beneficial for one of the right side players who started to go block-out after getting stuffed a few times.

From there I flipped the rotations so the setter and libero were both front row and all the hitters were back row and did Scramble. A couple of balls dropped unchallenged in the first round, but after I told them they’d get an extra 30 seconds for that happening there weren’t any in the two remaining rounds. The intensity level and communication definitely rose nicely.

Thoughts and observations
Most of the time when we’ve been playing games I’ve allowed the players a second serve if they miss the first. This is something I do to allow them to be more aggressive in their serving, while also reinforcing the desirability of not missing two serves in a row, which is something I talked with them about in Tuesday’s meeting.

I intentionally avoided doing much in the way of specific “coaching” during the first three training session. I wanted to help stimulate the integration and communication development process by putting them in situations where they needed to sort things out together rather than relying on me giving them instructions. That inevitably led to some confusion (especially between middles and setters on quick set play calling), but that forced them to talk with each other about it. On Friday I began to do more concentrated coaching, and increased on that on Saturday. It will be a feature from now on. By that I mostly mean quick comments/corrections to the players, though sometimes quick broader points to the whole team.

From here I need to start really working on the offensive tempo and the incorporation of the back row attack (pipe/bic) in to the scheme. At least one of my OHs looks likely to be quite effective. This, in turn, likely means defensively we play with the libero in 5. It seems likely that we have a pretty solid offense, and I think the defense will be pretty good. I need to take a closer look at our blocking in the week ahead, and serve reception definitely needs to improve.

Other stuff
I found out that I have to attend an all-day event on the 29th for coaches, managers, and team captains as part of the Elitserie kickoff. I think it will be partly promotional and partly a technical seminar of sorts. That’s a Tuesday, which means no training. Not ideal the week before our first league match, but decent timing for a break when considering we have a pre-season tournament in Copenhagen that runs Friday through Sunday. We’ll probably get in a make-up training on Thursday that week, though.

Coaching Log – Aug 28, 2015

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

The first training session is on Monday!

I’ll return to Svedala this weekend. Aside from getting my domestic affairs sorted out, my first priority before Monday evening’s initial practice is meeting with the three American players. I will have a first full team meeting before Tuesday’s training session, but I want to talk about a few things with Camryn, Chelsey, and Mo that relate specifically to them and their status as the foreign players in the squad.

Right now I’m planning to do a playing-only session on Monday, which is a 2 hour slot at our secondary facility. Tuesday we’ll have a team meeting before we do the first proper training session in the main hall. I’ve asked that any “just training” or “want to try it out before making a decision” players be at the Tuesday session at a minimum, and Monday too if at all possible. My main meeting focus on Tuesday will be what I expect to see in training (behavior, attitude, etc.) and what the players can expect from me. I want “guest” players to know what my expectations are going in because they will be held to the same standards as everyone else.

Wednesday we have our first session of weight training as a team before practice. I’ll probably focus that on assessment with regards to a couple key exercises. I need to find out what the exercise club we’ll be using has for equipment, etc. Thursday is an off day. Friday night and Saturday morning will be regular training sessions of 3 hours and 2 hours respectively, though I doubt I’ll go the full time on Friday.

My main point of emphasis for the whole first week will be on seeing where the team and individuals are at in terms of both play and fitness so I can then start plotting our developmental path forward.

I found out this week that the revised schedule has been set following the late withdrawal of a team I mentioned previously. The plan is similar to the previous schedule where we were to play most teams home and away, but two teams close to us geographically another home and away round. Only in this case it will be three teams we play 4 times each rather than two, with Hylte/Halmstad added to Engelholm and Gislaved. The playoff structure was still being decided at last check.

The schedule for the pre-season tournament we’re playing in Denmark the last weekend of September has been released. It’s an 8-team tournament featuring a pair of 4-team pools. Pool A is Holte, Brøndby, Hylte/Halmstad, and Fortuna. Pool B is Engelholm, Svedala, Team Køge, Amager. So we’ll get to see the three Danish teams we have as competition in the Öresundsligan I mentioned before. Engelholm is also part of that league. Fortuna and Team Køge are both also from the Danish top division.

The third Swedish team in the Öresundsligan is Gislaved. It looks like we’ll play them the weekend before the above tournament as a 1-off friendly. Unfortunately, the timing of that is a bit awkward, as two of my players have been called up to the Sweden U19 camp next month in preparation for the NEVZA U19 tournament in October. Both have played for Sweden at the U17 level. One of those players is a middle, of which I currently only have two in the squad. Could make things a bit tricky in terms of line-up decisions.

From this point on I expect to shift the timing of these log entries. I won’t do them daily the way I did with Exeter in 2013-14 and 2014-15. This is mainly a function of having training or matches 5 days a week for the most part. That would just be too many entries and wouldn’t leave much room to write about anything else. I might do some daily entries in the case of very specific items of broad interest, but beyond that I’ll probably stick to a weekly publishing calendar and maybe post on Sunday or Monday.

Setter considerations

Part of the USA Volleyball Coaches Accreditation Program Level II (CAP II) requirements is that coaches write an article for publication. One such article was posted on the USAV website titled Recipe for a Setter by Peggy Kane-Hopton. In it, Peggy presents what she considers the five key characteristics of a good setter.

  1. Athletic ability and touch
  2. Communication and leadership
  3. Mental toughness
  4. Game understanding
  5. Physical attributes

One might be inclined to merge #1 and #5, but I think pretty much they all capture the main elements. They basically match what I talked about in the post Picking a Setter.

In the first section Peggy says “The setter’s most important skill is the ability to get to the ball.” A quick touch is the next important thing. This reminds me of a question posed to me by a former teammate. He’s now a Division I head coach at our alma mater. A few years back he asked if I would rate good feet or good hands higher for a setter. I said feet, and thus agree with Peggy. He said hands.

In the last section there’s a line that I think is so key.

“The setter must be able to move quickly to beat the ball to the spot.”

Along with setters not actually getting to target, this an issue for many setters. Instead of beating the ball and getting in a good position to execute the set, they time it and arrive at the same time as the ball. This means a less stable setting platform and almost certainly lower set consistency.

The one comment I would have that might be to the contrary of Peggy’s article is that sometimes the mental side of things can offset physical short-comings. A setter’s leadership skills and/or ability to read the game my make up for being undersized, a bit slow, or something along those lines.

Early season practice planning

Practice planning is – or at least should be – a major part of any coach’s efforts. Generally speaking, the wisdom goes that you should spend about as much time developing a training plan as executing it. That said, the question still remains what elements you should include. This is the subject of a question I once saw posted. In particular, it was with respect to early season plans.

How do you generate an effective practice plan? I struggle in the beginning of the season when I see new faces, different levels of talent, a need to work on fundamental basics for some girls but not others, pressure to throw a lineup together for an active preseason, and it’s just me.

Generally, I start a season by evaluating where we’re at in all the major facets of the game. I want an idea of where both individual players and the team are relatively to where they need to be. Having that information lets me develop my training priorities – both short and long term.

That being the case, I like to develop initial session practice plans which incorporate a bit of everything. That’s serving accuracy and consistency, serve reception, offense, and defense. Of course I try to do that in as game-like a fashion as possible. I don’t mind stepping back, though, if there’s something I feel like I need to look at more directly. You need to see enough repetition for each player to have a sufficient basis for analysis. That may require more of a “block” than “random” focus in some respects. I don’t want to go too far toward block, however.

The key thing to keep in mind here is that the top priority is assessment. Training is a secondary priority, of course. For these initial sessions, though, it’s not the most important thing to be thinking about. Once I’m done with the assessment process, training takes over as top priority.

Let me offer an example from when I started at Svedala.

I that was my first time working with those players and in almost all cases the first I saw of them on-court in person. Before I could figure out what to prioritize for training I needed to know where the players and the team were from a number of different perspectives. My plan was to have them spend the first practice basically just playing a number of different games to get a general overview. Then, in the subsequent sessions, I’d narrow the focus down to look at certain things more closely based on what I saw in that first session.

Here’s the plan I went with for that first session.

Having said all this, chances are there are certain things that you know you’re going to need to work on in training. For younger and developing players, serving and passing are usually right at the top of the list, as an example. You can easily incorporate training of the things you know will be priorities right from the start, and build in opportunities to assess other areas around that.

Beginning the 2015-16 Coaching Log

It will be a few months yet before I actually start working with my new team at Svedala Volleybollklubb – September, in fact. The season starts in early October. That doesn’t mean the work hasn’t already begun, though. It actually started before I even signed my contract!

The first priority from the club’s perspective is signing new players for the upcoming season. Last year the team had three American players filling their permissible foreign player spots (foreign meaning non-Swedish, as opposed to non-EU). None of them is returning, so all three of those places need to be filled. Most likely that will mean bringing in a Setter, a Middle, and an Outside. I’ve already begun evaluating players who have been suggested to the Sports Director from his contacts and/or put forward by player agents. He is also evaluating prospective domestic signings, as some of them will not be returning. It’s going to be a process not unlike college recruiting in the US, albeit without the NCAA rules and the academic considerations. The principles are the same, though – lots of video watching, reaching out to contacts, considering things beyond just playing ability, getting information from coaches, etc.

Because I’ve not coached in Sweden before, one of my first requests was to be able to watch some video of matches played last season. I have three of them, two featuring Svedala and one featuring the league champions (Svedala finished 5th in the standings and lost in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs). I’ve watched two of the three so far, so I have a general idea of where things are at. I want to do a more detailed review, though – both to analyze the style and level of play and to look at specific returning players. This is actually a nice change from when I got started coaching in England. I had absolutely no idea then what the competitive level was going to be, so there was a lot of on-the-fly adapting the first year. In this case, I’ll have at least seen the video. Plus, having worked with the German teams last summer gave me a lot of valuable insight into European professional volleyball generally.

Other stuff
The next priority from a club perspective will be to do some advanced planning with the Sports Director. One of the things that will include is decisions on preseason competition. I want to start making contact with the returning players and new signings as they come aboard to get to know them some individually. No doubt there will be plenty of other things. As they come up for consideration along the way I’ll speak to them in turn.

Moving forward …
I’m not sure how I’ll end up handling these log updates moving forward. During the season it would be a bit much to post something after each training session and/or match as I did while coaching at Exeter when it was only a couple times a week, generally. Most likely I’ll go with a weekly approach where I speak about what I did in the 7 days gone by and look forward to the 7 days coming. Between now and then I’ll post entries as things of note develop to provide some insight into the administrative and organizational side of things.

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