In the post On player communication I talk about the challenge of players communicating with each other on the court. It in part brings up the question of whether players really need to talk during play. That’s from the perspective of player responsibility. In other words, whose ball is it?
With that in mind, I will share my own personal basic philosophy on seam responsibility. I’m happy to hear about different approaches.
I take as my starting point the idea that the person with the shortest distance to go for the ball should take it. After all, it will take them less time to get there. Flipping that around, it means the player farther away takes the deeper ball. Generally speaking, it’s easier to go sideways or forward than to have to try to go backwards to play the ball.
Here’s what that looks like in terms of serve receive. The star is the location of the server.
So as you can see, the player who is closest to the origin of the serve is the one who takes the short seam between players. The one further away then takes the deep seam.
And here’s what that same principle looks like from the perspective of a standard perimeter defense. Again, the star is the attack point.
Of course you may use a different type of defense or locate your defenders differently in the perimeter scheme. The concept remains the same, though. The important thing is that players understand that the principle applies regardless of court position. They need to know instinctively who has the short seam and who has the deep one in all situations based on their relative positions. If they do you will drastically reduce the number of balls that land between players who are standing there looking at each other.
Now, understanding seam responsibility when in serve reception or in defense is only part of the equation. There are other “seam” situations that should have clear rules. Here are a couple that come immediately to mind.
Who plays the third ball over between a front row player backing up and a back row player moving forward?
Who takes a ball that is set between two attackers?
When does a middle hitter take a serve?
Then there are other situations which influence who takes a ball, such as the setter releasing on a free or down ball. I’m sure you can think of a few of them.
The point is, the players should understand these structural elements of how they play. There will always be situations that don’t fit into nice, neat structure, but if the players know the principles, they can deal with things effectively. When they reach that point, talking becomes less about communicating in-play and more about communicating between plays.
I’ve addressed this in broad strokes in the Putting together a starting line-up post. Here, though, I want to drill down. I’m going to look specifically at how you place the players on the court by position.
Here’s the most common way teams line-up when playing a 5-1 system.
So, if someone (like me) talks about their O2 or M1, you know they are referring to positions relative to the setter. The 1’s are next to the setter.
Note: The fact that the setter in the diagram is in Position 1 isn’t meant to suggest that’s the best place to start them. There are a number of factors which figure in to whether you start there or in a different rotation.
The basic idea with the ordering of the player positions this way is balance. That’s how the above diagram came to be. The better middle is next to the setter and the weaker outside. Likewise, the stronger outside is also next to the setter as well as the weaker middle. Further, when the O2 and M2 are both in the front row, the opposite is also in the front row, providing three attackers, rather than just two.
Now, how you judge your stronger/weaker middles and outside hitters can vary. The initial thought may be balancing things offensively, but it doesn’t have to be that way. For example, if your setter is not a good blocker, you may put your better blocking middle at M1 to create more balance from that perspective.If your middles have similar attacking abilities, then looking at their blocking can be very useful.
Serve reception is another way you may try to balance things. I once saw a coaching friend of mine put his strongest outside hitter at O2 rather than O1. When I asked him why he told me it was about passing. In his system the O1 passed in the middle of the formation more often than the O2, but his stronger attacker was not his strongest passer. Moving him to O2 reduced his exposure in serve receive, helping to balance things out in that way.
Middle leads, or outside leads?
You will notice in the formation above that the M1 leads the setter in the rotation. We refer to this as a “middle leads” arrangement. Though it’s not as frequently seen, some teams do use an “outside leads” set-up.
Why is the middle leads system generally favored?
It comes down to serve receive. The system where the outside leads can create some awkward reception formations, and fewer options. The middle leads approach tends to offer more flexibility.
The above, though, assumes you’re mainly using your outsides and libero to pass. Most teams do this, of course, but you may find yourself in a situation where you can pull someone else in to pass. Maybe your opposite is a good passer, or even one of your middles. In that case, you may find it better to use an outside leads approach.
I definitely recommend that you take some time to write out each of your rotations. Map out a primary reception pattern and also look at alternatives. If nothing else, it’s good to know what your options could be if you need to change things up. Make sure you know how the overlap rules work and how they can actually be used.
What are your favorite drills/games to practice serve receive?
I see that question, or a variation of it, regularly.
Here are a couple of different drills I’ve used, or seen over the years. The names are either what I heard them called, or ones I came up with myself that described them. Feel free to change them if you like.
1-2 Serve & Pass is one that lets at least one of your servers be aggressive, but without the problem of having lots of missed serves or one passer not getting many balls.
A drill that focuses on individual rather than group passing is 8-Person Serve & Pass. This is something that is good if you have a bunch of players to involve. It is also well suited for a more controlled serving and passing set up as it features one server going to one passer. It’s an extension on the idea of Passing Triplets.
I personally like to make things competitive as much as possible. To that end, I often look to do servers vs. passers games. They do not provided the highly focused individual repetitions of the two drills noted in the paragraph immediately above, but they do offer lots of more game-like ones.
In this post and this other one I wrote about a couple of different ways to think about scoring such games. The trick is to find a scoring approach that is fair for both sides. This is especially true when you do something like pitting your primary passers against non-passers. If you play a more mixed game (passers equally distributed on both teams), then you can use aggregate scoring. Each team has a turn passing and serving. Their final score is the combination of the points they earned in each role. That way, even if there is an imbalance in how points accrue (for example, the scoring tends to favor the passers), both teams will get it when it’s their turn.
Just about anything will work
Here’s something to think about, though. Literally, any drill or game that includes serve reception can be a good way to practice it. You don’t need a new drill for that purpose. You simply need to make sure serve receive is a key focus and gets specific feedback. And realize that the quality of the pass is one big form of that feedback.
To that end, small sided games like Winners, Speedball, and Player WInners offer the opportunity for lots of serve reception practice. Thinking more 6 v 6, there are games like 22 v 22 and 2 in 2 which include lots of team serve reception repetitions – especially if you allow for re-serves on misses.
Game-like reps will always be better than ones that don’t replicate game situations. Even still, to get the most out of them they require focused feedback on the skill. It’s not enough just to let them play.
For years, my 13 year old has been taught to “get around the ball” to pass, rather than reaching left or right for it.So today, she went to a high-powered libero training clinic where the teacher told her essentially the opposite. It really blew her mind because the instructor just kept on her about it.Is there an absolute correct way to receive a dig or serve, or is this a disputable matter?
Matt’s response I found very appropriate:
My belief is correct passing technique is a combination of footwork and platform. In a perfect volleyworld, the passer wants to move his/her feet so the ball is centered into the stomach. But, because of the geometry of volleyball, the platform must be angled to redirect the ball to the setting area (depending upon where the serve was received).
In general, I wanted my passers to move their feet to get behind the ball, and then keep their arms no wider than their hips to redirect the ball to the setter. Depending on how tough the serve was and how much they were able to move their feet, this would impact how much right or left (from the centerline of the belly button) they moved their arms.
I think Matt’s second sentence hits the mark – in a perfect world. In other words, if the player has time to move and get into a stable passing posture, then you’d probably like to see them pass center-line. It reduces variability, which should improve consistency.
But, the world is rarely perfect
A center-line passing technique, though, goes out the window once serves get tougher. Obviously, that means serves with more pace. They simply give the passer less time to move. Watch top level men’s volleyball. There is just about zero time to move to take the ball center-line against a jump serve.
Importantly, we have to also consider late-moving float serves. It’s all well and good to have the ball centered on your bellybutton. If the ball drops and/or curves away as it’s approaching, though, there’s little you can do to get your body there.
There is also the question of seam responsibility considerations.
Should we teach center-line?
If players eventually have to be able pass away from center-line, does it make sense to spend a lot of time training it? Personally, I think we need to focus much more on platform angle. I see so many issues with that among players at levels where they should be more aware.
I can understand the value of teaching center-line passing to young players, though. The biggest issue you usually get at that level is players not moving. They tend to want to just stand in one place and wait for the ball to come to them. Training them to pass center-line encourages movement – especially at a time when serves tend not to be overly challenging. It also encourages them to not be lazy.
That said, once you have players moving to the ball unconsciously, I think a shift has to be made to focus on platform angle as the key (I won’t get too far into the weeds with the specifics there).
Don’t just take my word for it. When I interviewed Tom Tait for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project he specifically talked about this subject. Not only is Tom the father of Penn State volleyball (men and women), he was a professor of exercise science and coaching. In other words, he knows what he’s talking about. The part of Tom’s interview where he speaks about center-line vs. platform angle is featured in the 2nd Wizards book.
Thinking about the player’s future
Here’s a major issue for us coaches. There is a strong tendency to coach our players based on what works best at our level. In other words, coaching to win matches. After all, our status is closely tied to how our teams perform at our current level (see Coaching youngsters like college players for a discussion this in terms of specialization).
The problem with that, however, is it doesn’t necessarily prepare players for the next level. Are we doing kids any favors if we require them to pass center-line beyond a certain level of introduction? What happens when they reach the level where they face tougher serves?
Serving is the only closed-chain skill in volleyball. By that I mean it’s the only skill which is not reliant on someone else first doing something. Setters need a pass. Hitters need a set. Blockers and defenders need an attack. The server, though, is in full control of their own execution. That allows them to develop a routine before they put the ball in play.
Having a pre-execution routine is something we see in other sports. Baseball is probably the most obvious example for American sports fans because it has so many discreet plays. You can definitely put tennis in the same category, though.
In volleyball, some servers have very simple routines – hold the ball up, wait for the whistle, toss and hit. Others get more involved with a bunch of bouncing and/or hitting the ball. Perhaps the most over-the-top pre-serve routine I’ve ever seen involved a bunch of bouncing with weaving body/leg movement. Not something I personally would have encouraged.
And it doesn’t just apply to the player with the ball – the server or the pitcher. It also applies to the receiver, as Natalie Hagglund (US national team and former USC libero) pointed out in an article once. In fact, hitters in baseball have some of the more ridiculous pre- routines.
In particular, Natalie’s discussion of pre-serve routine focused on keeping things simple.
“Your process should be short, sweet and should be able to trigger some sort of reaction.”
And beyond the process, there’s also the focus. Here too Natalie recommends keeping this limited. If you’re focused on too many things you’ll probably find yourself overwhelmed. This applies to coaches just as much to players, by the way.
A reader of the blog has a problem with one of their players. Specifically, it relates to bad passing mechanics. Here’s the note I received:
“I am a relatively new coach and this is my first season coaching boys. I have one boy on the team in particular that I’m having a hard time with his passing skills. He is doing what I call butterfly arms (Looks like he’s swimming the butterfly stroke) and delayed foot movement during passing. He waits until the ball is almost on him, then swings his arms backwards and around to get them into his hitting stance then leans forward instead of shuffling to get under the ball.
I’ve tried all kinds of passing and footwork drills with him (rolling the ball and having him shuffle to get it between his legs, having him hold his arms out, shoulder width apart and tossing him the ball without requiring foot movement, etc.) and I haven’t been able to cure this extra movement. Needless to say, he shanks a LOT of passes. Do you have any suggestions for drills or repetitions to help this?”
I’m having a hard time visualizing exactly what the problem is with the arms. I think I’ve got a general idea, though. In a case like this my first thought is the player needs to see himself to be able to understand what’s happening.
What I would start by doing is having the player watch some good passers in action. That could potentially be someone on his own team. It could be someone that they play against. Of course, it could also be some prominent high level players that could potentially be bigger role models for them. That stuff should be easy enough to find on YouTube, etc.
Once the player knows what good passing mechanics looks like, I would get them watching themselves pass. You could use one of the apps like Coach’s Eye (I think) that allow you to do side-by-side comparison of video. More than that, though, I’d want to be able to give the lad persistent feedback by using video delay, if you can (ideas for a set-up are here and here). That would let him see himself basically every repetition. He can then compare what he’s doing with what he’s seen is good mechanics. No better feedback than that!
Beyond the video, I don’t think it’s the actual drill or game that really matters. It’s more about finding the right cues to use with him. Those are the things that carry through across all activities, so you can include them throughout practice, which is important. The player needs to learn to pass in game situations, so you need to be able to have those cues established and ready for use.
Be careful, though, and don’t overload the kid. Try to only focus on one or two things at a time. If you have too many points of emphasis it’s not going to work.
Pass is a 3 or 2 (positive pass in DataVolley) = point for passers
Pass is a 1 or overpass, or get aced = point for servers
Missed serve = -1 for servers
The game started at 3-0 in favor of the servers. That allowed the servers to miss a reasonable number of serves.
I set the game up to go to 25. Unfortunately, I quickly realized the game was going to take too long. As a result, when the first group reached 15 (passers in this case), I told the team it was bonus time. Moving forward, aces and 3 passes (perfect) were worth 2 points. That sped things up. It also led to the score being tighter in the end.
I will experiment with this further. One thing to look at is shorter games. So too is going with the 2 point plays from the beginning. Also, I need to think about the number of missed serves to allow for with the starting score. It has to be based on the number of serves made to be more fair based on how aggressive you want to the servers to be.
Along with our Saturday match, the weekend’s Elitserie fixtures included Hylte hosting RIG and Örebro hosting Lindesberg on Sunday. The latter match was the more interesting of the two as it was far more likely to have implications on playoff standings. With both teams virtually assured of 12 points from their four matches vs RIG and Sollentuna in the second half, if either Örebro or Lindesberg is able to win both of their matches against each other – especially if they are 3-point wins – it will put them in position to seriously challenge for a top-3 playoff seed.
We’d have liked to see Lindesberg win 3-2. Alas, after a tight first set, Örebro ran away with a fairly easy 3-0 victory. Hylte also won easily. Basically, that means the standings to start this week had the same order as they did to end the first half of the season. The only difference is that Örebro has played an extra match.
Our Monday practice gym was cold, so I made some adjustments to the session I had in mind to try to make sure the players stayed active and didn’t cool off between activities. We started talking a bit about Saturday’s match, and then a bit about Wednesday’s opponent, Hylte. I had observed that they did some different things with their line-up in their weekend match than they did at Gran Prix. They started the setter in the same position, but they swapped the position of their OHs and their MBs.
After that, I had them down continuous cross-court digging. That was something I hadn’t planned, but inserted for the “keep warm” factor. After that, we did some hitting and blocking with pin hitters going 1 v 1 against pin blockers. After doing a bit of Winners 3s, we finished up with a few 7-point games of left side vs right side.
We had two extra players on-hand – ones I’m hoping will be a fixture on Tuesdays from now one. They’ve both been with us several times before, but not on a consistent basis. Having them will definitely help doing more full-team type work – especially on what will often be the training before a match in the weeks ahead.
We had an opportunity to look at some video from Hylte’s weekend match, so spent a bit of time talking scouting. It wasn’t a lot of new stuff, though. More a reminder, seeing as we’ve played them 3 times already this year.
After warm-ups and pre-hab, I split the group over two courts and had them do a 3 v 3 cooperative back court game. The first part was just a warm-up extension, but after a few minutes I made it competitive in that the first court to get to 10 consecutive good pass-set-hits won.
From there we had the pin hitters on one court working on their directional hitting. I had a couple of blockers in place for them to work around. On the other court, the MBs were working on their attacks.
I then brought the groups together to do hitters against blockers and defense. Basically, this was the same thing we did last week where the block and defense were working on their positioning and reading and the hitters were working on their audible calls. They did play out the rallies.
From there we progressed to 6 v 6 play. I made about even teams and we played a variation on the 2-in-2 game. Instead of it being 2 serves and a point scored only if a team wins both rallies, otherwise it was a wash, we did alternating serves until a team won two in a row. That sees points scored more quickly. I had the games be to 4 and we went through four rotations.
Lastly, we played a regular 25 point game. This was A team vs B team, so to speak. It ended up being 25-15. There were some good rallies, but I think I probably won’t do that again. Just too lopsided.
I was really happy with what I saw of our defensive play. That facet of our game has really come along lately.
Let’s just say this wasn’t our best performance. During the first two sets we both served and passed serve poorly. The third set was much improved in both respects, but through the whole match we were constantly playing from behind. It was a tight affair, with no more than a 3 point margin in any given set, but we lost 0-3. That’s our first home league loss and the first time we didn’t get at least a point.
In the final analysis we came out ahead in terms of blocking, we had more aces, and we passed better. Our kill % was at the 40% level we’ve been working toward reaching. Our sideout percentage was high, but there’s was just a little higher. We simply made too many mistakes – particularly in the areas of attack and serve. In the case of the latter, not only did we miss nearly 20% of our serves, but they often came at bad times. The fact that we saw a similar issue against Sollentuna, I’m worried that we’ve fallen back into old habits.
Our O1 didn’t have her best match, which hurt us. We are heavily reliant on her scoring for us. This is something I feel like we need to remedy. We’re predictable. That’s fine against lesser teams, but against the better ones it means we’re constantly facing a bigger, better formed block. It’s going to take some of our other hitters stepping up to ease that pressure – and some better sets.
One player was missing because she needed to work. We also had a shortened time slot for training due to a floor ball match being played immediately afterwards. Given the early start and long ride for Saturday’s match this probably wasn’t a bad situation.
After warm-ups and prehab, I had them do some serving. We then did a cooperative cross-court team pepper. I made a few adjustments, though. In this case, the setters and the defenders were fixed. I had the two OHs and MBs rotate between front row and back row. One of my MBs defends in 6, while the other defends in 5. The OH played in the same position as the MB when in the back row. I allowed for both attacks through 4 and in the back row in this variation.
From there we went through the rotations. Because my OPP was missing, I had my back-up setter play in her position. The team received serve and attacked, then defended and transitioned against an attacked ball through 4 from me on a box. Not something I normally like doing, but I had to deal with the constraints.
We finished with back row Winners 3s.
We were on the road at about 6:40 for our trip up to Örebro.
The team was in pretty good spirits and energy going into the match. Unfortunately, the serving issues we’ve been having of late showed themselves again. We missed 11 serves in the first two sets, which prevented us from really taking hold of the match at certain times. We won the first set 21-25, but lost the second 25-19.
Serving improved in the third set, but our passing started to break down as that game when along. We jumped out to a big early lead – 14-4, I believe – but got stuck at a couple of points and ended up letting them back in. A combination of poor reception and not taking key chances eventually saw us lose that one 31-29.
The four set started of badly. I think we went down 6-0 based mainly on bad passing. We eventually recovered and were level on 8-8, but never could quite get on top of them. They ended up winning 25-19.
As noted, we started off serving poorly, but we passed pretty well – 2.00 and 2.14 in the first two sets. Serving was improved in the latter two sets – at least in terms of misses, but passing plummeted – 1.55 and 1.57. Basically, our Libero and O2 completely lost the plot. They combined for 9 aces or overpasses and recorded 22 1-passes.
Not that this was our only issue. A big problem was a lack of kills from our attackers. The setter did a pretty good job distributing the ball and getting lots of 1-on-1 situations, but we couldn’t put the ball away. Our O2, OPP, and M2 had kill percentages of 17%, 18%, and 7% respectively. This is a major issue. We need at least one of them to step up and produce because otherwise our O1 and M1 are just going to face bigger and more well-formed blocks, making them less and less effective.
This was a recove
Thoughts, observations, and other stuff
On Tuesday, Engelholm won 3-1 over Amager in the Oresund Liga. That drew them level with us on 13 points, but into second on set differential. Here’s the current table:
There isn’t another Liga match until we host Amager the first week of February. That same week, Brøndby will host Engelholm in a match with major championship implications.
In the Elitserie, RIG also hosted Sollentuna on Wednesday in a battle of the bottom two teams. As was the case in the first half, Sollentuna came away with the win. Sollentuna was also in action on Saturday, making a trip down to Gislaved. As expected, the home team won 3-0.
One of the things I started doing while coaching at Svedala was incorporate more competitive servers vs. passers games. I discussed that in this log entry, Basically, I put the three primary passers (Libero plus the two OHs) out receiving against the rest of the team. Each server gets 2 serves. The goal of the passers was to average a pass rating of 2.0.
For example, let’s say I have 7 servers. At 2 balls each, that’s 14 total serves. To average a 2.0 the passers need to collect a total of 28 passing points based on the rating of each pass.
We played the game probably half a dozen times the first week I used it and the passers won all about one of them. That struck me as unusual given that on the season our passing average is below 2.0 and our team is one of the best in the league at serving.
Thinking about that, I realized what was happening. In my scoring I counted a missed serve as a 3-pass. In determining the match stats, though, missed serves are not counted.
Should we count missed serves toward pass ratings?
That led me to wonder a couple of things.
First, if missed serves counted as 3 points, what would the equivalent be of a 2.0 average pass rating? I don’t want to have the missed serves not count because I want the game to apply to the servers as well. If they can just go back and let it rip with no consequences it doesn’t help their development.
Second, if we include missed serves into our team passing rating for matches, what would our target rating be? Most teams say 2.0 on the 3-point scale when excluding missed serves.
That second point has me really wondering. One of the things I talk with my teams about is setting up serve reception not just to put our best passers in place to take the first ball, but also to put the opposing server under some pressure. Give them a different look. Make them aim for a small area of the court if they’re targeting a specific passer. Give the appearance of something being open or not open. That kind of thing. Missed serves should really factor into looking at serve reception effectiveness from that perspective.