Tag Archive for mental focus

Coaching Log – Feb 1, 2016

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

On Sunday Engelholm beat Hylte 3-1 at home. Combined with our loss on Saturday, the results created a log jam at the top of the standings, with four teams within 2 points.

ElitSerie-Table-012516

The Elitserie schedule for the week was a fairly full one. Engelholm hosted Gislaved on Tuesday and RIG hosted Örebro on Wednesday. On Saturday, alongside our trip to Gislaved, Örebro hosted Hylte and RIG hosted Lindesberg. The only possible question mark in there in terms of expected outcomes was Örebro vs. Hylte, so in order to keep our position among the top group we needed to match everyone else and take a win against the 6th place team.

The concern I had starting the week was our seeming reversion back to the team we were when we gave up winning positions against Engelholm and Hylte to lose those matches in our first league meetings. We were not mentally tough against Örebro and our serving in recent matches has been problematic at the very least.

The struggles with the offense I outlined in the last entry are something we need to work on from a technical perspective. Missed serves and poor passing, though, are mental issues rather than technical ones for the most part. Obviously, being resilient in the face of adversity falls into that category as well.

I have to confess, I do have some concerns about fitness levels which could be contributory. I don’t have anything objective to point to from that perspective, though.

Monday
During the day I took the 3rd set from Saturday’s match, added notes and highlights to the video, and posted it for the team. That took most of my afternoon. I got it done only a short while before having to leave for practice, so there wasn’t enough time to expect the players to watch it. I spoke to it a bit at the start of the session and the players talked about a few things in terms of moving forward. The gym was too cold (again) to just be standing around chatting, though, so we swiftly got to work.

After warm-ups I had them do the final part of the Twenty-one drill as something to have them moving and being active from the start. I followed that with Continuous Cross-Court Digging. Then it was on to Winners 3s, back court attacks only.

The bulk of the session was spent doing serve receive and attack against three blockers to work on reception, attacking the block, and blocking. Myself and my assistants did the serving. I switched the players around from hitting and blocking and setting, blocking, and hitting in the case of the setters. The passing started off rough, but seemed to improve as the exercise progressed. My OPP in particular looked good in attack, though continues to have technical issues with her blocking.

We finished up with a couple of minutes of narrow court Winners 2s.

Tuesday
We had a young guest player in training – a girl trying to make a decision between potentially playing for Svedala next year and going to RIG and being in the academy program there. We also had our usual visiting player from the second team and our former player, giving us a full gym. That always makes things more fun and interesting.

After pre-hab and some group pepper as a ball-handling warm-up, I split the group. On one court the MBs worked on transition attacks coming off of blocks. On the other court, the OHs and RS were doing serve reception and attack.

I then brought them together and played a variation on Winners 4s – one I’ve used before. The setters were fixed (rally-winning setter goes to/stays on the winning side). The MBs did their own winners rotation, with the rest of the group on the usual one. Normally, I have them play on a narrow court, but this time we went full court. This was basically a build-up of the attacking work to add the block.

From there we did hitters vs. a full 6-team unit, taking things up another level. They played out any rallies which ensued.

I then moved them on to 22 vs 22 to bring in the serve reception element. Because of the mixture of ability and experience, I set the teams to have the starters against each other in the front row for the first two games (one side was the server in each), then flipped front and back row for the second two games.

We finished up with a regular 25-point game using the same teams.

It was a good session. The energy level was high. The players were generally more aggressive in attack. I saw more block-out, high hands swings, which is something we’re trying to work on. Serving was pretty good. Defense was very strong. It was good to see. The second team coach was in the gym with us, providing a bit more technical coaching.

Wednesday
I think lifting before training tends to take a bit out of the players (not surprisingly) and lead to less energy and intensity. That certainly seemed to be the case in this session. Though, my young MB did ask about how much jumping there would be given that they’d done a fair bit on Monday and Tuesday, so there was perhaps a little bit of an overall fatigue.

As per usual on Wednesday, the session started with 2-ball volley tennis. That was followed by cooperative cross-court hitting in which I had the group first do attacking through 4, then attacking through 2, then 2 and 4 and finally 4 and 2.

The second team was still going on center court, so I needed to extend our time on the side court a bit longer. I had the team do serve and pass 3s. That hadn’t been in the plan, but it served the time-fill purpose.

Switching to the center court, next up was back row Winners 3s to get into game play and competition. That was followed by a new version of the servers vs passers game, which the passers won again.

The primary full game play exercise was a 5 v 5 focused on right side vs left side. Each team had three back row players, but only two in the front. On one side, it was OH and MB. On the other it was RS and MB. We played games to 5 with one side serving each ball and playing two games before I rotated players around to get different hitting/blocking match-ups.

The 5 v 5 games end up being lower intensity and focus than I’d have liked. After going through a few rounds, I decided to do something much more uptempo. I had 3 front row players and two back row on each side. I alternated tossing a free ball in to each side and let them play out the rallies.

We finished with target serving. At the end, my American MB did some work with the young Swedish MB on her arm swing hitting off a box.

Friday
This session was a classic build-up one, starting with fairly simple and progressing to complex. After warm-ups and pre-hab I had them do a 4-corner setting drill. That was followed by target serving where I told them to do 10 good of the best serve, than work on their next best. I gave them about five minutes.

Next up was servers vs. passers. This time I only went to 15 points and started the score at 4-0 for the servers. No bonus points. The game ended up much closer this time, though the passers won once more, 15-13.

From there it was back row Winners 3s to get in attacking and defense, with some “live” serve reception. I then progressed that to Winners 4s with fixed setters and middles (one of the others was front court as well). That kept the passing and added in the middle attacks and blocking.

After that it was more full game play – though one side only had six players so Zone 6 was out. I used 22 v 22 as the structure. We did 3 total rounds of that, by which time the players were looking fatigued, so I called it a day.

After training the MBs once again did work on arm swing. The two passers who struggled last weekend also wanted to stay and do some more passing. We talked a little about technique and ready position, but the biggest issue for both is what’s going on between their ears. They pass well in drills (though are very hard on themselves if it”s not perfect), so I told them it’s all about clearing out the negativity come playing time.

Saturday
That match didn’t go as planned. I had a warning during our warm-ups that we perhaps weren’t as focused as needed. During the defensive drill the team does (2 hitters, a setter, 3 defenders rotating in and out) there were balls getting hit between players not getting dug – to the point where I stopped them for a few words. That’s the first time I’ve felt the need to do anything like that.

The first set was nip and tuck early, but eventually they got out to a 14-10 lead, and then 17-12. We clawed back to 19-17, but it ended 25-18. Part of what saw us fall behind was missed serves in the early going, which was theme through the match. We seemed to have them in clusters near the start of sets, but got much more consistent after that and ended up with 11 aces to 11 errors for the match.

We actually passed fairly well in the first set, but our hitting was poor. We only sided out at 44%.

The second set saw things turn around sharply. We got out to a 9-4 lead, which ended up extending to 19-9. We had no service errors in that set, but managed 4 aces.

At 19-10 I subbed in our back-up setter for the starting one. The starter had just finished serving, so she was in 1. Unfortunately, the passing let her down and she maybe could have made a better decision on one of her sets. We gave up I think 4 points and I had to put the starter back in. Even from there they managed to keep coming back and get to 20-16. From there it was even and we won 25-21.

Hitting in the second set was miles better (13 kills against 1 error). We sided out at about 62%, though our passing was a little worse than in the first set.

The third set saw our first four servers miss three serves, though we missed none after that. It was tight up to 10-10, then they nosed ahead to 13-10. From there we never got back to level, though we fought hard. We weren’t helped by some poor officiating. Our hitting was pretty solid and our passing decent, we just struggled with stopping them from scoring (only 32%).

The fourth set had a very similar beginning. We missed 4 serves in our first trip around the rotation – once more not missing any after that. Our passing dipped a bit in this set, though our offense overall remained pretty effective (17 kills vs. 3 errors). Again the issue was stopping the other team from scoring (33%). It was very even up to 13-13, then they nosed ahead  to 18-15. We came back and eventually reversed things to 23-22, but then gave up the last three straight points.

This one hurt. We were clearly favored and had beat Gislaved three times before. They were a team on the ropes having gotten pounded on Tuesday and with a bunch of players recovering from injury and illness. We needed this one to stay in the fight for a top playoff seed. Losing puts us in a bad position given our remaining schedule.

As much as we looked great at times – especially on offense – we had quite a few lapses. Hitters didn’t expected to get set. Players didn’t cover their hitters or expect a ball to get played by teammate. A few execution and decision errors. My concern is that the team was mentally and/or physically fatigued, which led to the focus issues. Some of the players are also dealing with minor injury issues.

Thoughts, observations, and other stuff
On Tuesday Engelholm beat Gislaved rather easily. Apparently, Gislaved was dealing with a rash of injury and illness issues. Their top OH, for example, was relegated to playing Libero. Not that we’d have expected them to beat Engelholm in any case. Similarly, Örebro won 3-0 at RIG on Wednesday night.

On Thursday we found out that Engelholm had replaced the American MB they’d had to send home due to a back injury. The player is reportedly a part of the Canadian nation, so a potential upgrade in quality. That team has used it’s middles very little offensively, so it might not add much to them from that perspective, but it could improve their block.

Saturday’s other matches saw Lindesberg win easily at RIG, as expected. The more interesting match was Örebro hosting Hylte. The visitors won a tight one, 3-2.

Is it easier to play better teams?

Here’s a story from my days coaching in Sweden. On the train ride back from Stockholm, a group of my players talked about the prior evening’s match. We played the team second from bottom in the league. It was a team that only managed wins over the team last in the standings.

During the exchange, one of the players commented on how it can actually be harder to play weaker teams.

Now, as coaches I’m sure the first thing which comes to mind in a situation like that is motivation. For sure, it can be hard to get yourself up for a match you’re expected to dominate. Moreover, it can be hard to maintain your focus when you’re winning comfortably.

That’s not what this player was talking about, though.

She was actually looking at things in terms of predictability. The general thrust of it was that with better teams you basically know what they’re going to do. The ball comes over the net at predictable times and in predictable ways. With weaker teams, though, you are less sure of when and how the ball will come across the net. That makes things tougher.

One of my middles actually commented that during a certain stretch we had put them under so much pressure with our serve that for several points in a row she didn’t have to block at all. When they finally were able to run a good attack, she forgot she needed to block! 🙂

In situations like this, along with trying to keep the team focused on that things we want to work on, I also talk about the need to be constantly ready. You never can be sure when or how the ball will cross the net, so you have to be alert and in a position to make whatever move is required.

It’s important that we coaches also maintain our focus in matches like this.

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