Synopsis: This is a great warm-up type game that gets players moving and competing while also working on communication and strategy.
Age/Skill Level: This is a game for all levels
Requirements: 4+ players, full court
Execution: Split the group in half and put the teams on opposite sides of the court. Two players from each team will be involved in each rally, so the rest will be off behind the end line waiting to rotate in (if you have more than the minimum).
A rally starts with one player from each team on the court, and one off the court beyond the end line as “server”. The servers count to 3 together, then underhand throw the ball over the net to the other side. From here the teams play volley tennis with one contact per ball per side. Play continues until both balls are dead. If one team wins both balls they get a point. Otherwise, it’s a wash (no point). Game is to 10, or whatever you choose.
- You can play on a reduced sized court for younger players.
- You could play with teams of 3, but probably wouldn’t want to go with more than that.
- Illegal “serves” (toss too flat) can either be a replay or you could count them as if they were a missed serve. The latter counts as a ball won by the receiving team.
- You can split the group out any number of ways – by age, by height, by shirt color, etc.
- This game was first introduced to me, I think, by the Swedish players when I coached at Svedala. They referred to it as Brazilian 2-ball tennis (or something like that). To this day I refer to it that way with my teams.
- Every team I’ve ever seen play this game – my own and others’ – has enjoyed it a great deal. Even up to national team level professionals.
Synopsis: This is a 6 on 6 drill/game that you can use to keep many players active and not sitting out for long periods of time.
Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for all levels
Requirements: 12+ players, one court
Execution: Set up one side of the court with a team of 6. The rest of the players are on the other side. Six are on the court, with the rest ready to come in. The 6s side serves and the teams play out a rally as normal. On the next serve, a new player serves and bumps the player or players in their position. For example, if an OH serves, they bump the current back row OH up to front row, and the front row one goes off to become a server. Thus, a new player comes in at the start of each rally, and one goes off.
- If you want your pin hitters to attack both on the left and on the right, they can do something like a middle back to left front to right front rotation.
- You can fix certain positions, for example setter.
- You can can have certain positions rotate separately without serving, for example middles.
- If you have enough numbers, you could do the same substitution pattern, or about the same, on both sides of the court and make it 6s vs 6s.
- This drill is something you can use in a situation where you want to work on your starting rotation, or if you want to work on certain serve receive rotations.
- You don’t have to score the play if you don’t want to, but there are a number of ways you can use scoring. In the most basic way you can play games to X number of points as an indication of when to change things up on the 6 side – be it turn the rotation or swap out players. If there’s something specific you want to work on, you can use some kind of bonus point scoring.
Synopsis: This is a fast-paced, small-side game based on a Winners model, but with a major wrinkled that creates lots of movement and encourages player communication and problem-solving.
Age/Skill Level: This is a game for all levels
Requirements: 6+ players, full court
Execution: Play starts with 2 players on the “winners” side and two on the “challengers” side. One of the challengers serves to start the rally. The winners team has three contacts to attack the ball at the challengers, but the attack must come from the “challengers” side of the court. That means they must play either the first or second ball over the net so it can then be played for a final contact back to their starting side. Meanwhile, the challengers run over to the winners side to defend. When the winners play the ball back into the winners side of the court, they then have to do the same process (play the ball back to the challenge side and attack from there). So the ball is always attacked (or otherwise played over on a final contact) from the challenge side after first being received/dug on the winners side.
Whoever wins the rally becomes/stays the winners. The losing team rotates out and a new pair of challengers begin a new rally. A team earns a point by winning a rally when they started on the winners side. Play to a predetermined number of points.
Here’s some video of what it looks like in action. I recorded this in May 2017 during the training camp for the Australian Men’s National Team.
- If you don’t want to score the game you can play for time.
- You can play with teams of 3. More than that would probably be too many people moving back and forth on the court, though.
- If you don’t have the right player count to make fixed teams you can have each player keep individual score.
- You can have the players stay on the ground (at least to start) if you want to use this game as a warm-up, as was done in the video.
- You can require the teams to use all three contacts, or make them only use two.
- For younger or less-experienced players you can require certain types of ball contacts. For example, the third contact must be a down ball.
There’s a good article in the this edition of the AVCA member magazine, Coaching Volleyball, by Leon Blazer. It’s titled The Great Divide: Lessons Learned from Coaching at the Club Level. The author is a guy who was a collegiate coach, but who found himself coaching 12s for his local club. I found a lot of what Leon wrote about to not only be very good for coaching his current age group, but for older players as well. There’s one particular aspect I address in another post because it also relates to an email I received.
Here’s my one issue with the article, though. Why is he specializing these kids? At that age group they should learn to be all-around players, not setters, middles, etc.
Sure, specialization may lead them to more wins. Blazer is clearly proud of having achieved quite a bit of success with the team in that regard. This, though, is where I think coaching them like a college team is inappropriate.
Mostly, college coaches tend to think of their team as the last stop in any given player’s career. That means they aren’t thinking about an individuals long-term development. Instead, they are focused on getting the most out of them in the present (which obviously isn’t to suggest they don’t develop them as well). This is one attitude which cannot be taken at the youth volleyball level. Kids are still physically developing. You simply cannot know with any real certainty where they will be in a few years.
Were I in Leon’s place I would want to do all the things he’s doing in terms of attitude, training, mentality, pushing them, etc. I would just have everyone set, everyone hit in all front row positions, and everyone play defense. In my view, this is a mandate that should be coming down from the leadership of the club – potentially even from the USA Volleyball and/or the region in which the club competes. I know Volleyball England talked about doing something along those lines.
Synopsis: This variation on Winners is a small-sided game which can be used when you don’t have a net available, especially for younger and/or more developmental players. Also potentially useful in situations where you have lots of players, but little space.
Age/Skill Level: This game is suitable for all levels.
Requirements: 6 players, 1 balls.
Execution: Start with three teams of 2 players each. One of the team starts as the net. They stand in the middle. The other two teams play out a rally. The loser of the rally swaps places with the “net” team and serves the next point.
- The game could be played for time or until one team won a given number of points.
- Depending on the amount of space available, you could configure the “court” to be short or narrow or whatever suits your purpose.
- You could increase the team sizes to 3s, and maybe 4s.
- Rather than switching on each rally, you could play mini games (say first to 3).
- I saw this diagrammed on a table at breakfast by John Kessel.
- If there is a rope or string or some other thing that could act as a net, the “net” team can hold that rather than having the rally played out over them.
- This is something that potentially could be used in a pre-match warm-up when you only have one side of the court.
Synopsis: This is a game based on the bonus point idea, which means you can use it to encourage your team to concentrate on certain key areas of focus. It allows for a lot of flexibility and adaptability for varied levels of play and complexity.
Age/Skill Level: This game is suitable for all levels.
Requirements: Court, 2 teams, 1 ball.
Execution: Start with each team choosing some number of bonus point plays/tasks they must complete. For example, one team could select quick set kill, getting a single block for the OH, and getting a soft or stuff block while the other picks forcing a non-setter to take the second ball in serve receive, getting a tip kill, and getting a high ball kill. The team that is able to do all their bonus plays first wins.
- You can do this in a small-sided game fashion.
- The required bonuses could be randomly chosen, assigned by the coach, or picked by the team.
- Multiple executions of a single play can be included, such as getting 5 good passes.
- This game was described by US Women’s National Team coach Karch Kiraly at the 2015 HP Coaches Clinic.
- If you don’t allow teams to know the bonus plays for each other you add the dimension of forcing them to try to figure it out to prevent the other team from “scoring”.
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.
- 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.
I had an email come in from a reader of the blog – or at least someone who stopped by for a visit. She asked:
I am currently coaching both a 5th and 6th grade team with a total of 22 players. However, we only have one small gym to use and we must practice them together a lot. Can you help me find drills to do that will include a lot of players?
I can totally sympathize with this problem. In my time coaching in England I was frequently forced to try to manage a lot of players in a small area – especially during try-outs for the university teams. It’s definitely a challenge.
The first thing I would bring up is something I know both USA Volleyball and Volleyball England – and I’m sure other federations – are proponents of at the grassroots/beginner level (and beyond). That’s mini volleyball. By that I mean not just playing small-sided games, but also playing on smaller courts. In England they have badminton courts in basically every gym. You can generally get 3-4 in the space of a volleyball court. Using them lets you go from 22 on one court to 5-8 on each court.
In the US badminton lines may not be as readily available, but it’s not hard to create them with tape, cones, etc. In terms of nets, you can use the badminton ones if you have them, or you can create your own long net to string across the gym. The great thing about working with beginners and youngsters is that you don’t really need to be overly concerned with net height. At Exeter the beginner group of university players often trained using standard badminton height nets.
USA Volleyball has a section on ideas for setting up mini courts in their mini volleyball guide.
The other idea I would toss out is stations. Break the gym up into areas where you can have players working on different skills. That will let you get them split up into smaller groups, which serves a similar purpose to mini volleyball. Smaller groups means more touches and less time standing around. You can then have them do movement and ball-control drills/games in 2s, 3s, or 4s.
A reader asked the following very common question:
I am assistant coach of Grade 8 girls and they need to come out of their shells. What drills do you suggest to help with their first pass?
Basically, this coach is after ways to get them to call the ball and move more aggressively to play it. I can tell you that this isn’t something confined to just to girls or just younger players. I’ve had to address it with older players and with members of both genders.
Calling the ball
Communication is all about habit. You need to develop in your players the habit of calling the ball before they play it. Really, the only way to do that is to have them do it repeatedly. Unfortunately, there’s no magic drill to make them suddenly start talking. As a coach you simply have to prioritize that focus. Then you need to continuously reinforce it in different ways throughout your trainings. Put them in situations where they have to cooperate. Have consequences for failure to call the ball, like not counting repetitions in passing drills, or even making it a minus. Maybe add a bonus point in a game for any time all three contacts for a team have someone calling the ball. Be creative, but most importantly make sure to consistently focus on it. If you only intermittently encourage them to talk, they will probably only communicate intermittently.
Moving to the ball
Standing around waiting for the ball to come to them is the hallmark of new players. This is something that needs to be very quickly addressed. Regular work on court footwork (shuffles, cross-overs, etc.) is a starting point. That gets players used to the idea of moving and how to do it properly. That’s just the starting point, though. The second step is to incorporate movement before playing the ball into your drills. Even if you work on the very basic stuff, you can still have them shuffle a step or two before they pass. The more they become used to the idea of moving prior to playing the ball, the more it will start to come naturally.
Confidence and connection
Let’s face it. A lot of what makes players quiet and tentative is a lack of confidence and not feeling connected with their teammates. To the extent we as coaches can help overcome that we speed up the process of getting them to talk to each other and come together as a team. Something I’ve found useful in that regard is the Amoeba serving game. I’ve seen quiet groups turn into a yelling, screaming bunch of players as they encourage each other in trying to beat the other team. Lots of exactly the sort of things we want to develop in our players. And I’m not just talking about youngsters here. I saw the same sort of thing with my university players in England, where I used the game to help integrate players from all different nationalities and backgrounds.