Tag Archive for ball control

Game: 4 v 4 Out-of-System Winners

Synopsis: This is a variation on Winners 3s or 4s which narrows the attacking options. That should produced more rallies while getting in good work on defense against live hitters and out-of-system offense, among other things.

Age/Skill Level: This is a game for intermediate to advanced players

Requirements: 12+ players, full court

Execution: This game features 4 players on each side, two front row and two back row in a box type of formation. The two front row players are pin hitters, with the two back row players as wing defenders. The area within 6′ (2m) of the hitter’s line is declared out (so if the hitter is attacking in 4 then zones 1 and 2 are basically out of play. In other words, the hitter must attack middle or cross-court. The game is played like Winners in terms of having a winning side, rally initiation by a serve, etc.


  • You can change up which areas of the court are out. If you exclude the middle of the court, then you make the hitters attack line or cross. If you exclude the cross court you force the hitters to attack middle or line.
  • You could eliminate the Winners element and just have the two sides playing each other with the sides rotating each time they send the ball over the net.
  • You can have positional specialization either by keeping players in fixed positions, or by left side players just playing on the left and right side players just playing on the right.
  • You can require that one of the back row players take the second ball.

Additional Comments:

Training Plan: 11 players, just games

Priorities: Shake off the rust with lots of touches, start the process of the players getting to know each other at the beginning of a new season, get some initial impressions

Training time: 2 hours

Space: 2 courts

Players: 11 (2 setters)

Notes: Because set-up and take down were included in the allocated time, and some amount of time was necessarily allocated to introductions and initial discussion, the actual training period was somewhat less than 2 hours.

– – – The Plan – – –

Warm-up: No isolated warm-up.

Cooperative 1 vs 1 and 1 vs 1 w/fixed setter: Set up 4 games of 1 v. 1 and one game of 1 v 1 with a fixed setter. The idea is to get to 6 good pass-set-downball sequences. As soon as one group gets there, they all rotate in a clockwise fashion. If no one gets there in the time limit, rotate anyway.
11-player singles rotation3-person and 4-person pepper w/fixed setter: On one court is two groups of 3-person rotating over-the-net pepper. On the other court is a 2 v. 2 pepper with a fixed setter. The team’s two setters are market A and B. Again, play to six good pass-set-hit sequences (this time with jumping), or a the time limit. Rotation for the non-setters is clockwise. The setters switch positions each rotation.

11-player peppers

5-person and 6-person player winners: Each court has a game of Player Winners on it, one with 5 players and one with 6 players. Play for 5 minutes, then move the top 2 from the 5-person court to the 6-person, and the bottom 3 from the 6-person court the other way (now making the 5 a 6 and the 6 a 5). Restart and go for 5 more minutes, then send the top 3 from the 6-person court to the 5-person court, and the bottom 2 from the 5-person court to the 6-person court. Play another 5 minutes, then repeat the process from after the first round. Play one last round of 5 minutes.

Winners 3: Finish with standard Winners (3s in this case) Start with back court attacks only, then shift to allowing front court attacks as well.

– – – Observations – – –

The first two exercises went quicker than expected. As a result I added a 5th exercise. The initial thought was to play Winners 4s, but instead I went with Neville Pepper. The 9 non-setters were split up into three roughly equal teams. They were the teams to play through the games. The setters were used in a fixed fashion, switching sides when the challenge side won a rally.

Drill: 2 vs. 0, or 2-Player Over-the-Net Pepper

Synopsis: This pepper variation takes the standard two-player version and introduces playing the ball over the net, putting a real premium on ball control and smart ball-handling.

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

Requirements: 2 players, one ball, a net.

Execution: This variation of 3-person over-the-net pepper begins with one player on each side of the net, one with a ball. The player with the ball (Player A) hits it over to the other player and immediately runs under to the other side. The second player (Player B) passes the ball as normal. Player A sets the ball up to Player B and ducks back under the net. Player B plays the ball to Player A, and ducks under to the other side to set Player A. And so on.

Additional Comments:

  • I saw John Kessel (USA Volleyball) describe this pepper variation over breakfast at the High Performance Coaches Clinic.
  • You could use anything that can be set high enough for players to duck under (string, rope, etc.) for a “net”, allowing you to use just about any space.

Setter start position and the passing target

I saw the following question asked.

Should we have our setters start at the net, slightly offset from middle in the traditional target position (net zone 6 in the old USA Volleyball numbering system)? Or should we should allow them to go to a spot a bit further off the net.

The latter reflects a shift to have passes which aren’t as close to the net. This idea has gained traction, at least partly thanks to the spread of the Gold Medal Squared philosophy. I think the setter start position and the passing target are issues which deserve separate attention.

Passing Target

To my mind, where you have your passing target depends on a number of factors. Level of play is obviously a big factor. You don’t want to try to force a high level of accuracy on players lacking the technical skills. Also, if your setter basically just sets high balls it really doesn’t matter too much if the ball is off the net. At the same time there’s greater margin for error at the top end of the sport. The skill of setters and hitters there allow for less precision. The result is that teams in the middling levels are the ones who require the highest degree of passing accuracy to run a quick offense in the middle.

Coaches have begun setting their teams’ passing target a bit off the net to reduce the risk of overpasses. It’s similar to having your target for digs being middle of the court around the 3m line. Keep the ball on your side of the net and give your team a chance to get a swing.

I understand the motivation, and certainly do a lot of work with my own teams to avoid overpasses. There’s a trade-off which must be considered, though. It’s akin to the one we make when considering how aggressively we should have our teams serve. At a certain point more risk is required to be competitive. We have to consider the effectiveness of our pin hitters when deciding on a passing target. If they are able to consistently score (or at least put the opposition under pressure) then the more conservative passing approach is reasonable. If, however, our OHs and OPPs struggle to score, then we need more precise passing. That brings our middles into the equation and gives our pin hitters swings in better situations.

Setter Start Position

My personal philosophy is that the setter should always start at the net. They then react from there to move off the net if the pass requires. My reason for this is setters quite often get themselves into trouble when they try to move toward the net on a ball passed close. We’ve all seen it. After coming off the net the setter loses their sense of position. They then end up having to try to play the ball while moving toward the net. This tends to result in net touches, center line violations, ball-handling errors, or simply bad decisions. The mistake I tell my setters they cannot make is to mess things up by being out of position when one of their teammates gave them a perfect pass.

Now, that said, there are times when it might make sense for the setter to start slightly off the net. At the lower end of the playing ability scale, if you have a slower setter and the vast majority of balls are being passed off the net then a start position a few steps into the court makes sense. On the other end of the spectrum, if you have an athletic left-handed setter who can attack the ball effectively, having them start a bit off the net to be able to get a short approach can make sense.

As always, what we coach our team to do should depend on the specific circumstance of that group of players and the opposition we face.

Coaching Log – Nov 3 2014

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2014-15.

Absence, injury, and illness limited the numbers at training a bit. Not great timing given the match coming on Wednesday against one of the favorites to win the league since all of the missing players are in the mix for the first team. As a result, I focused on a bit of skill work for the first part of training. I had them do serving & passing 3s/4s as a starting point. Target serving followed. Then, because many of the players have struggled with good technique for down balls and back row type attacks (wrong foot forward mainly), I had them do a kind of butterfly which forced them all to set and hit – initially standing, then focusing on the last two approach steps. I finished up with game play in the form of the Belly Drill and narrow court winners 3s.

I wasn’t overly pleased with the serving and passing reps, particularly on the passing side. I did see a couple of players showing improvements, but their wasn’t enough calling of the ball and some players weren’t as focused on working on their technique as they needed to be. They did relatively well in the hitting drill, but of course once things shifted to game play it all went out the window for some of them, so more work is required in a game-like environment.

The intensity during the game play was good, and the overall level among the players is coming up as the second teamers are clearly making gains. The fact that they’ve been able to play some matches (they had two regional club league ones on Sunday) is definitely helping. The concern, though, is the first team not making as much progress as they really need to be making.


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

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)Whats 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 on 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. 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.

All of that said, there are always players you can tell early on will fit into a certain position. There’s the really tall future MB; the short, but quick future libero; and the future setter who can already anticipate play. There is room in system to start specialization in some ways a little early, but the overarching idea should still be to try to develop as much all-around ability as possible.

Drill: 14-Player Serve-Pass-Hit

Synopsis: This drill gets a lot of players active on one court working on serving, passing, setting and hitting – and potentially blocking and defense.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for intermediate and higher levels.

Requirements: 14+ players, 4 balls, a net.

Execution: Set the players up as shown in the diagram below – two passer/hitters on each side, two servers behind the end lines, and one setter on each half court. The half courts run independently as separate drills. The drill begins with a serve going to the pair of Passer/Hitters with the setter on their side. One of them passes the ball. The setter sets to either P/H. That player than goes to become the server on their side. The setter switches sides and the drill repeats for the other side. The server then goes in to replace the P/H who hit the ball the repetition before.14-player serve-pass-hitVariations:

  • If you have sufficient numbers, you can have 4 setters in the drill and not have them flip sides.
  • If you have extra non-setters you can have the extras in the service area where they can be ready to serve straight away following a miss.
  • You can let the players to play out a rally rather than just having the attacked ball to be the conclusion of the repetition.
  • If you don’t want to use fixed setters, you can have the hitter rotate to setter, and the setter rotate to server.

Additional Comments:

  • You can make this something of a butterfly by having the hitter collect their ball and go to the other side to serve rather than stay on their own side. This may require having more than just 14 players, however, depending on the skill of your players and the size of your gym (ball chase time).
  • Having the players play out the rally would be more easily done if you have two setters on each half court rather than just one, but it can still be done with one setter quickly ducking under the net each time the ball goes over.
  • Of course this drill can be done with fewer numbers using a full court. The idea in this case, though, was the show a way to incorporate a large number with as many active players as possible.

Drill: 6-player Over-the-Net Pepper

Synopsis: This pepper variation expands on the over-the-net version to allow for more players to be included, potentially allowing for increased complexity.

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

Requirements: 6 players, one ball, a net.

Execution: This extension of 3-person over-the-net pepper begins with 3 players on each side of the net – one off the net one at the net, and the last one off the back line waiting to come in. One side starts the drill by tossing the ball to the player off the net on the other side. The player digs/passes the ball to the player at the net who sets back to them to play the ball over the net on the third contact. The setter rotates out, the digger/hitter moves up to become the new setter, and the off player steps in to become the new digger/hitter. The pattern repeats and play continues for as long as the ball can be kept in play.


  • Depending on the level of your players you can have the 3rd contact ball be a free ball, down ball, tipped, rolled or controlled attacked ball.
  • You could have the off player doing something while they wait to enter the court – jumps, footwork movement, etc.
  • If you have the space, you could have 2 players in the off-the-net positions to create a kind of controlled 3’s game. In this case, the digger continues to attack and then swaps places with the setter.

Additional Comments:

  • While it is possible to add players to this drill, that generally isn’t recommended from the perspective of maximizing player contacts. Better to create additional smaller groups if the space permits.
  • By having two digger/hitters on rather than one you increase the complexity by forcing seem communication.
  • I saw this being run by German men’s professional team TV Bühl.

Drill: 5-Player Passing and Movement

Synopsis: This is fairly simple group ball-handling and movement drill (though with room for increased complexity and/or intensity) that could be used as a warn-up.

Age/Skill Level: This is suitable for all levels

Requirements: 5 players, 1 balls, court, 3 cones

Execution: Place two players on one side of the court and three on the other. Behind the two players place one cone each, and place a third cone on the 3-player side in the middle of the court toward the back. What follows is a continuous ball movement exercise where the players on the 2-person side always pass the ball straight ahead over the net while those on the 3-person side always pass the ball diagonally. After one of the 2-person side players passes the ball, they circle around the cone behind them, while on the other side the passer loops behind the cone to switch to the other position.



  • Players can be required to forearm pass or set the ball, or some combination.
  • The cones can be moved to challenge player movement to a greater or lesser degree.
  • A second ball can be introduced to increase tempo and focus requirement.

Additional Comments:

  • If using multiple balls in this drill you’ll probably need to have more than just the 5 players to keep the play flowing.
  • I saw this being run by German men’s professional team TV Bühl.
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