Tag Archive for Volleyball Practice Planning

About hitter training and the myth of the wrist snap

There’s a post worth reading on the USA Volleyball blog (hat tip to Coach Rey). It looks at hitter training and focuses on getting players to execute skills in game-like fashion as often as possible. In other words, getting away from “block” training which breaks the skill down and works on its components individually. That’s a major focus of modern training for coaching volleyball. There are some worthwhile things to think about toward that aim in this piece.

The “myth” of wrist snap

At the end of the blog post is an interesting exchange about the mechanics of hitting a ball with topspin, whether that’s a spike or a topspin serve. You need to read that section from the bottom up to properly follow the flow, as the sequence of the discussion is in reverse chronological order (like an email exchange).

The major take-away from that topspin conversation is that wrist snap has nothing to do with it. Your hand is not in contact with the ball long enough for it to wrap over the top the way it looks to do when you execute in slow motion.

So do we stop coaching wrist snap? Or does it actually serve a purpose?

Volleyball Coaching Concept: Wave drills & games

Wave drills in volleyball are quite useful when you work with larger groups of players. They’re also good in high intensity drills. They can help avoid excess fatigue.

Basically, wave drills involve grouping players. You then rotate them through positions in a game or drill together. Doing so can effectively minimize down time in the form of players sitting out. You can also use them to move players into a less demanding role after a high intensity sequence. For example, MBs shift from fast-paced front row play to serving or defense.

A game like Winners 3s is a simple version of a wave structure. At the end of each point, one group of players comes off while another group comes on. A third group may also shift from the challenge side of the court to the winners’ side.

Another variation on this is breaking the team in to cohorts of three. They then play a 6 v 6 game during which those cohorts are rotated through front and back court positions. For example, a new wave comes on in the back court position on one side after each rally ends. That then cascades the waves through. It pushes the back court cohort on the other side of the net off as the front court group moves into their place. This allows you to have players on for 4 straight rotations. They are only off a minimal amount of time (1 rotation if you have 5 groups, 2 rotations if you have 6, etc.).

You can also wave on errors. Say you have 18 players. You split them into six groups of three. Three teams are assigned to each side of the court. Two teams are on and one is off waiting. The teams play through a rally. One of the cohorts on the losing side is replaced by the cohort waiting on the sideline based on some rule, like which group was at fault for the point lost.

I’m sure you can think of numerous other waves ideas. In fact, you probably use them in an ad hoc way right now. When you flip front and back row during a drill or game (like in Bingo-Bango-Bongo after a big point), that’s a form of a wave. The advantage of formal the wave rotations, however, is players are responsible for automatic waving. That means you don’t have to stop things to do it. This saves time and keeps the training intensity up.

Save time by naming your volleyball drills

You will notice that the volleyball drills and games I post here to share with you have names. You may or may not like them and think you can come up with better ones. If so, go for it. They are being shared so you can incorporate them into your training if you find them useful. I fully expect in doing so that you’ll make any adaptations you deem necessary.

Getting back to the point, though, there is a very specific reason for my assigning names to drills and games. It’s one which I encourage you to emulate if you aren’t already do it.

By naming each drill and using that name with your players you’ll make your training sessions go much more smoothly. Nothing grinds a well-tempoed practice to a halt faster than having to take several minutes to explain what you want for the next drill. Obviously, that can’t be avoided when introducing a new drill (which is why the start of the session is often the best time to do it). For those you use fairly regularly, though, having a name means the players know exactly what you want and can get on with things. There may be those who through either being new or being dense don’t know what’s going on, of course. The rest of the squad will get them sorted out so you can focus on what’s happening, though.

Now this doesn’t mean you can’t make modifications to adapt the drill to concentrate on your priorities for that session. As long as they don’t change the basic functioning of the drill, you do what you like. For example, you could say something like:

“We’re going to do The Belly Drill now. Since I want to focus on quick attacks today, though, we’re going to add a scoring element. A team will get 1 point for a kill from a quick attack. We’ll keep going until one team gets to 5 points.”

In this case I’m not doing anything in terms of altering the primary way The Belly Drill functions. All I’ve done is created a modification to focus on something I want the team working on that day. The players should have no problem understanding what the drill’s about because it will function the same as always, but now as a goal.

If, however, the modification you are thinking to make to a drill will alter the basic structure of that drill, then I’d argue that you’re now talking about something different. In that case you should give it a name of it’s own. You could perhaps use the first drill’s name as a reference point when describing it to the players, but you don’t want to get into a situation where every time you use it you’re saying something like “We’re going to use that modification of Drill Z that we did that one time before where the passers go there instead of here, and the hitters are on the other side of the net, ….” Just give it a new name. It’ll make everyone’s life easier.

There aren’t many of us volleyball coaches who have all the time in the world to run our trainings, so we need to use them as efficiently as possible and waste as little time as we can. Naming drills is one way to help spend more time on action and less on talking.

And definitely feel free to change the name of drills you find here on this site, in books, etc. You want them to be memorable for the players, so maybe involve the players in naming them.

Small-sided volleyball games

A long time ago someone in soccer decided it was better for younger athletes to play small-sided games. I recall this shift in my youth when we kids were playing in our town league. My sister was among the first to play 7 v. 7 on a smaller pitch (field) rather than 11 v. 11 on a standard one, which my brother and I had both played.

We’re seeing a similar sort of focus in volleyball. Volleyball England is dedicated to using small-sided games (primarily 4s) in the younger age groups. Schools in England are going that route, both in terms of teaching in Physical Education classes and in inter-scholastic competition. John Kessel of USA Volleyball is a big proponent of mini volleyball. I watched young players in Sweden play 4s when I coached there.

Small-sided games for everyone!

Small-sided volleyball games aren’t just for young and/or new players, though. They can be quite useful in many ways for training more experienced groups as well.

And I’m not just talking here about running something like Winner’s 3s, which many teams do. That is certainly a game played with fewer players, but it’s played on a full-sized court in most cases. What we’re looking at here is smaller teams on a smaller court. For example, British school kids play 4s on a badminton court.

Consider the purpose of this. Fewer players means more touches per player, while the smaller court means less area for them to cover leading to more rallies (the latter was the reason for FIVB shrinking the beach volleyball court). The net result is lots more contacts for all the players.

I used small-sided games a great deal in training both the EUVC and Devon Ladies teams in England. I also used them coaching Svedala in Sweden. No doubt I will keep doing so with teams moving forward. In addition to all the added touches, I like that working on a smaller court forces players to be more precise in their serving and attacking, and to do more problem-solving in terms of finding ways to score when there’s less court to aim at.

The other nice thing about small-sided games is that you can integrate just about anything you want to focus on into the play. This makes them extremely flexible.

For example, if you want to work on the quick offense, or conversely defending against a quick offense, you can introduce bonus points for kills from quick attacks. If you want to work on hitting against a potentially well-formed block you can have teams playing 4s use a 3-up/1-back formation, putting 3 potential blockers at the net against each swing. And of course you can use some kind of wash scoring system as well.

These days making training as game-like as possible is a major focus of volleyball coaching. Small-sided games offer the advantage of being able to do just that, without having to sacrifice contact frequency.

Volleyball Coaching Concept: Wash Drill

Basically, a wash drill in volleyball is one which forces a team to do things in a row. Sometimes it is doing things in bunches. If the team does so it earns a big point. The objective is to accumulate some number of total points or to beat another team. If the team fails to reach the objective it is a wash. They don’t earn the point, or alternatively, the opposing team gets the point.

There are a few primary variations you’ll find in wash drills. They include the following.

X before Y
One team has to get X number of points before the other team gets Y points.

X out of Y
A team must get X number of points within Y number of attempts (or could be done on time).

X in a row
The team must score X number of “little points” in a row to get a big point.

There is also the variation of wash drills where achieving some objective doesn’t immediately give a team a point. It instead gives them an opportunity to earn a point. The bingo-bango-bongo game is a variation of this. It uses an “X in a row” core approach. Once a team gets that, though, they must win a service rally to actually get the point.

Wash drills in volleyball are useful for any number of purposes. Here are some examples.

  • An “X before Y” variation can make for more competitive games between teams of unequal levels, such as starters vs. non-starters.
  • An “X out of Y” type of game can pit hitters against each other in an attack vs. defense drill or game.
  • A variation of “X in a row” could be used to focus on executing a skill or tactic, such as successfully running a quick attack.I

If there’s something you want to work on with your team, there’s probably a way you can do it with a wash drill. The advantage of this approach is that it gets players and teams focusing on not just singular executions. That is the case with many skill development drills (think serve receive or hitting line drills). Instead, the focus is on execution repetition. This, of course, is much more realistic in terms of game expectations.

Are your warm-ups wasting valuable time?

This post will no doubt ruffle some feathers, but so be it! 🙂

There is little I hate more as a volleyball coach than watching a team do a jog-and-stretch warm-up before practice or a match. I have to think there are only three potential reasons for teams to do that.

  1. The coach (or captain) is ignorant of the better options.
  2. The coach (or captain) is being lazy.
  3. The players are intransigent (perhaps due to ignorance).

All of these reasons (excuses?) can be addressed, and should be for the benefit of the team. When I agreed to take on coaching for Exeter University in 2012 one of my requirements was that jog-and-stretch be thrown out.

Why? Because jog-and-stretch is an utter waste of time. I mean that both figuratively and literally.

On the figurative side…

Static stretching (the sort we most often think of when referring to stretching) may not have any value for warming-up. There’s no evidence that it prevents injuries, which is counter to what a lot of people think. According to WebMD, research actually shows that it may be harmful in some cases – explosive sports (like volleyball) being one of them (but time between the stretching and performance may make a difference).

Regardless of whether static stretching has any value, athletes should do it when muscles are warm. Jogging a few laps around the court is not sufficient. This is why the suggestion is that you stretch after, not before, exercise. Static stretches are best for developing flexibility, not for warming-up.

Taking it a step further, a warm up should replicate the activities to be performed during the exercise, just at a lower intensity level. You may make the case that since sprinting is part of volleyball (though only barely), jogging is a good warm up to that. Fair enough, but what about jumping, lunging, shuffling, serving, spiking, and blocking? Not much jogging is going to do for them.

All of this is why dynamic warm-ups have become so popular. Here are a couple of examples.

The first is the Stanford University men during pre-match warm-ups.

This second features a set of exercises demonstrated by teenage players.

There many, many variations and types of dynamic warm-up exercises out there. Search YouTube and I’m sure you’ll find dozens.

That said, though, there is some research with suggests even dynamic warm-ups have little impact on performance. It’s limited so far, though, so we need to see more.

On the literal side…

Jog-and-stretch misses an opportunity for the players to work on volleyball-specific movements and skills. The dynamic warm-up at least can have some volleyball type movements integrated. Even there, though, most aren’t great for getting the shoulders warmed up for serving and hitting, which is why you often see teams go from there into some kind of throwing the ball back and forth.

I also think that throwing of the ball back and forth, in most cases, is a waste of time.

Why do I say that? Because in my experience, especially with male players, it becomes more about how hard they can throw the ball or how high they can bounce it and less about actually warming up. And it takes way too long with an opportunity for skill development lost.

A simple progression from light ball-handling to easy pepper (partner pass-set-hit) to full-speed pepper will warm-up a player’s shoulders at least as well and offers the added benefit of having them working on volleyball skills at the same time (to a degree). This is supported by coaches in professional volleyball. Though I’m sure you could come up with something better than normal pepper for pre-practice warm-up when you have a net available.

When I was a volleyball camp counselor we used to play games during the break periods. Because we had a limited window of time, we generally went almost straight into playing without much in the way of warm-up. For the first several minutes it was fairly cooperative with no aggressive hitting or serving. It was only after a while that we upped the intensity to a proper competitive level. We basically played ourselves warm. Much more enjoyable than jogging around and stretching. 🙂

Do the sums

To re-task the Tesco motto, every little counts (Tesco is a grocery store chain in England).

How many training sessions will your team have this year? How many matches? Add those two figures together and multiply by the 5 minutes (or probably more) normally given over to some kind of stretching. That’s how much more effective training time your players can get by non-ball related warm-ups.

Let me use the Exeter teams I coached as an example. We trained twice a week for something like 20 weeks and had at least 20 matches. If we replaced non-ball warm-ups with those that include the ball in some form we get 300 additional minutes of ball-handling work (60 x 5) over the year, which is like adding 2-3 training sessions.

It’s OK not to do what the elite programs do

Now obviously playing your team warm isn’t something that suits all situations. Still, one needs to give a lot thought to priorities when planning warm-ups. If you’ve got a developing group of players you should probably forget about the fancy warm-ups used by upper level teams with elite level athletes. For them it’s about preparation for high-intensity competition. They are beyond the point where a few more setting or passing reps are going to make any difference. For you, though, every rep counts – especially when you only see them a few hours a week.

And keep in mind there’s a negative relationship between warm-up requirements and age. Kids don’t need to do all that stuff. Just get them on the court playing!

First Things First, Know Your Priorities

Everything you do as a volleyball coach starts with the priorities you have. Kind of hard to achieve goals you don’t know you have, after all, isn’t it?

Working from priorities is a top-down process. Unfortunately, many coaches take a bottom-up approach to their coaching – especially inexperienced coaches. Quite often newer coaches get caught up what I’ve heard described as the “drill collection” phase. They forget to think bigger picture. By that I mean a coach will learn a new drill and become excited to use it in training. They fail, however, to look at the context of that training to judge whether the drill is suitable at that time.

Every drill in every training session should have an objective. Every training session should have one or more objectives. There may be objectives for certain periods of time during a season. For example, pre-season objectives vs. early-season objectives, vs. late-season objectives. There certainly will be overall season objectives for the team. The club or school program of which the team is part will have objectives. The requirement is to start with the top level priorities and work down so it all lines up and every effort of yourself and your players is pulling in one direction.

This is not to say that each training session in a given period of time (like pre-season) should have the exact same objectives. It’s just that the objectives chosen for a given session should contribute toward the reaching of the next level of objectives.

For example, your pre-season objectives may be to develop fitness, get rid of the off-season rust, and create a cohesive team. You can focus on any one or more of those objectives in your pre-season training sessions.

I go deeper into developing a training session plan based on your defined objectives in other posts. For now, make sure that what you do in training lines up with the team’s higher level objectives. You will be a much more effective and productive coach just taking that step.

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