Tag Archive for coaching philosophy

Philosophy on 2-person serve receive

I had a question come in from a reader recently on the subject of serve receive. Here it is:

Do you have any thoughts, articles, philosophies about 2 person serve receive?  I am coaching a good 16s juniors team and would like to think outside the box some.

I have actually used a 2-man reception with a team myself. It was a boy’s team back in 1998 for a state tournament. I had two clearly strong passers – one an OH and one a RS. It worked out pretty well. We won the gold. 🙂

At that point, though, the serving in the boys’ game wasn’t as tough as it’s become. We didn’t face any jump servers that I can recall. As a result, it was much easier for two players to cover the court than it likely would be today. It would be a challenge to go with only 2 passers in the women’s game because they physically don’t cover as much space as men and the flatter trajectory of the serves already makes them very challenging to pass.

I can still see value in a 2-person reception focus, though. By that I mean having two players take most of the court with one or more others having smaller, defined areas of coverage. You can actually see this sort of thing at work when a team wants to limit how much passing a front row attacker has to do. They push them toward the side line and let the libero and back row attacker take like 80% of the court.

Personally, I think there are always opportunities to put your best passers in position to take the most balls. You need to consider what sort of serves you’ll be facing and look at your rotations. There may be ways you can position non-primary passers to take certain balls. For example, a MB taking short serves in their zone. It’s all about maximizing what you have.

Climbing Mistake Mountain

There’s a post on the USA Volleyball Growing the Game blog focused on the subject of talent development. In particular, it’s about what to do when in a place where there isn’t a lot of recruitable talent. In other words, you need to develop your own talent. The very first Lesson talks about the idea of “climbing Mistake Mountain”.

That phrase really caught my attention. It expresses an idea I think many coaches and players need to get their heads around.

Mistake Mountain is made up of all the mistakes we make on the road to mastery

I often tell my teams that we will make A LOT of mistakes. It’s the nature of learning and improving. In that context, mistakes aren’t a bad thing to be avoided and/or stressed out about. They’re a catalyst for improvement. This is something I wrote about before here, here, and here, among other places.

The “climbing Mistake Mountain” idea takes that to another level. It expresses the “errors are OK” idea. Actually, it goes beyond that. It actively encourages making lots of mistakes as they are necessary for improvement. The faster you make those mistakes, the quicker you’ll learn and improve.

Your mandate and situation influences your coaching approach

A post by Coach Rey explores the anti-Moneyball idea with respect to Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost. It references a NY Times article on the subject which talks about how Yost doesn’t operate based on analytics. This is something for which he was regularly criticized. The general thrust of both the blog post and the article seems to be that you can win without relying on the stats.

Here’s my own takeaway, though.

Yost specifically talks about making long-term decisions with respect to player development. He wasn’t trying to win every game. His mandate in both of his most recent two jobs was to develop young teams. When that is your priority, you make different types of decisions than you do when trying to win the largest possible number of games.

The same sort of thing applies in the type of situation some of us are in as coaches. It’s a case of how we play at season’s end being more important than how we play today. Mark Lebedew in his time at BR Volleys had the luxury of being able to mix up his lineup from match to match in German league play. He knew his team was stronger than others, and it was all about the playoffs. That allowed him to spread playing time and develop the younger guys.

I was in a similar sort of situation at Svedala in that every team made the playoffs. Yes, there’s an advantage to finishing higher in the regular season standings. Yes, we also wanted to qualify for the mid-season Gran Prix by being top 4 at the halfway point. The big objective was going after the league championship, though, so I could take a somewhat more developmental than “win now” attitude early in the season.

Obviously, not everyone has that luxury. When I was coaching at Brown there was no conference tournament. It was just the regular season schedule. When I was at Exeter for the first two years we needed to finish in the top three in our league to reach Championships and were VERY motivated to not finish 3rd to avoid having a first round playoff against one of the winners of the other leagues. In cases like that, winning now is very important.

What about you? What sort of situation do you operate in?

How is your coaching prioritized?

Alexis at Coaches Corner pondered how different aspects of coaching should be prioritized on the basis of what is cake – the core, what is icing – meaningful, but not key, and what is sprinkles – the nice to have stuff. This is how he broke it down in his own view.


• Quality Coaching
• Strength and Conditioning
• Skill/Technical training
• Group culture


• Group Dynamics
• Recovery
• Video review
• Training Diaries
• Healthy nutrition


• Nutritional supplements
• Training gear

I’m not sure how Alexis differentiates between Group Culture and Group Dynamics. I think, depending on one’s situation, strength & conditioning can be moved to icing. For example, when I was coaching at Exeter – and this applies to many club programs – we only trained twice a week for 3.5 hours total. No time in there to work specifically on S&C. Similarly, for some video analysis might fall into the Sprinkles category.

Here’s how I prioritized things with my Svedala at the time Alexis wrote his post.


• Player use optimization (line-ups, subs, etc.)
• Strength and Conditioning
• Skill/Technical training
• Volleyball IQ development
• Group culture
• Statistical analysis


• Group Dynamics
• Recovery
• Video review
• Training Diaries
• Healthy nutrition


• Nutritional supplements
• Training gear
• In-training video

These things, for me, change over the course of a season. For example, developing the team culture and dynamic is a big priority early on, but if done right is more about maintenance later. Regardless, knowing your priorities is very important.

How would you break it out?

Handling guest players in training

If you followed my Svedala coaching log entries, you perhaps noticed that on occasion I had guest players in training. Sometimes they were players evaluating whether they were going to be part of the team (former players). Sometimes they were players looking to get in a training session when their schedule allowed. In other cases they were members of the second team.

Each type of guest player requires a different thought process.

For example, when bringing in players from the 2nd team to train with us I looked to keep their roles very well defined. They were focused in areas where they were likely to succeed. It wouldn’t do my training efforts or their confidence level any good if I asked them to do things they just couldn’t do at a level comparable to that of the rest of the group. I wouldn’t help them and I wouldn’t help my team.

One week offered one of the more interesting guest player situations.

I receive a request from the coach of the Swedish equivalent of the national volleyball academy (RIG). He wanted to know whether a couple of his players could train in with us, as they were out of school. These were players from our region. One player, in fact, was from Svedala and played in youth teams with players in my squad. From a forward looking perspective, these are players who would potentially be targets for the team when they finished at RIG. That adds a kind of recruiting aspect to the mix.

Here’s the rub, though. RIG’s first team competed in the Elitserie as we did (their second team played in the 2nd division, as did our 2nd team). We played them the following weekend. How much did I want to talk about specific tactics and strategies when players from a rival club were in the gym with us?

Now, in the case of RIG it  was not a major competitive concern. They were a team we should have been able to handle. I did not worry about them reporting back to their coaches. The thing I was sensitive to, though, was talking about internal things with non-team members present. That goes for any kind of guest – player, coach, parent, club administrator, etc.

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.

Why isn’t the team together during timeouts?

I was never particularly comfortable seeing the bench players jog across the end of the court or whatever during timeouts in matches when the rest of the team was in the huddle talking strategy, adjustments, etc. I’m sure you see it. Perhaps your team even does it. I understand the basic value of those players staying warm. You might call on them to enter the fray. It always seemed a bit odd that they were apart from everyone else, though.

This really hit home with me during my first league match with Svedala in 2015. I saw my bench players kept to themselves during a timeout early in the match. This wasn’t something we discussed. They just did it, which suggests that’s how they did it in previous years.

That practice ended right away. I walked over to them during the next rally and told them to join the huddle from then on. I don’t want any of my players left on the outside watching. Everyone is part of what’s going on. I want them all in the huddle to hear what we talk about. I want them to contribute if they have something meaningful to add based on what they see. That, to me, has much more value than a little light exercise.

What do your bench players do? Why?

A night out with the parents

This past Saturday was the first time since arriving in Svedala that I actually had that particular day of the week off from volleyball. Well, sort of. I did spend about 2 hours with one of my players working on a recruiting video for her to send to US college coaches. This was the first time we didn’t have training, a match, or some other team activity, though.

What I did have was a social evening with some of the players’ parents and others which began with dinner and ended with us all listening to a cover band at a local bar (that’s not actually the right term, but it’s close enough and I don’t feel like taking the time to try to explain how it really works – if I even really understand it myself). I honestly can’t remember doing something like that with any prior group of parents. There is almost never any alcohol associated with social events where college volleyball is concerned in the States. And in terms of my work at the Juniors level, I don’t recall ever being in social situations with the parents.

The experience had me thinking at different points about where I need to place the “professionalism” line in those sorts of situations. We had the conversation at the start of the season with the players about representing the club and living in a small town – how word of public behavior quickly gets around. The same is true for the coach, of course. I cannot hold myself to a different standard than I would the players.

There were any number of interesting conversations during the evening. From a volleyball coaching perspective, though, the most interesting was one I had with the parent of a local girl who is actually at the national academy (RIG). She has apparently attended one or more of my training sessions, and was commenting on how differently I run things than my predecessor. She’s not the first to say so, but might be the first to actually question me on some things. It wasn’t really a challenge so much as an intense questioning.

Basically, it was a discussion of my coaching philosophy. I find that it’s always an interesting experience trying to verbalize things, especially to someone who isn’t a coach. One of the questions she asked was what I thought was my coaching strength. It was kind of like being interviewed. 🙂

Be cautious with away from motivation

In an interview, former German Men’s National Team Coach (and Volleyball Coaching Wizards interviewee) Vital Heynen shared the process which saw him hired to that position. He shared the coaching philosophy he expressed to the committee. It was essentially the opposite of the one of the coach who proceeded him. This made me think of the numerous cases of “away from” motivations that can be seen in hiring processes. And in other aspects of things, for that matter.

There are two basic forms of motivation. One is “toward”, which is when there is something we want and we act to try to get it. The other is “away from”. That’s the, “I know what I don’t want”, or potentially fear-based, motivation.

Away-from motivation sometimes comes up when a team has had a certain type of manager or coach. For example, some coaches/managers are considered “players” coaches while others are viewed as more disciplinarian. When club ownership feels things aren’t going in the right direction, oftentimes they replace one style of coach with the other.

I’ve seen a similar sort of thing happen with players. My last year at Brown the team established some clearly away-from team rules based on things they didn’t like the previous year. The result was a shift from basically one extreme to another, which in my experience tends not to work out all that great.

In the case of the hiring of a manager/coach who is the opposite of the one before, it might work in the short-term. Over the long run, though, it’s a dubious prospect. In fact, the change in the team’s performance may have little to do with the personality and/or philosophy of the new coach.

Just something to consider when you find yourself not liking some aspect of things.

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