I got the following question from a reader named Mike.
I have a question about useful activities that can be done sharing half court with the other team–you know–that 15 or so minutes before the refs call for captains.
Most of the teams I see just do pepper or hit down balls to 3 passers. But I’m wondering if there might be something that will get in more game-like reps even without the use of the net.
This is an interesting subject, and one I’ve had a lot of thoughts about over the years. In the Improving pre-match warm-ups post I sort of touched on it. Mainly, though, I focused on what you can do when you have the court to yourself. So let’s look at what we can do before that time – or the shared hitting time if that’s the structure you have.
Pepper has a purpose
We all know the pepper isn’t very game-like. It does have a purpose during warm-ups, though. First, it replicates some of the physical movements the players will do in the match – especially arm-swing. As such, it does have a physiological use. Second, it has a mental element. The players use it to connect with each other on the court. This can actually be very important time for them, even though what they’re doing (like bouncing the ball off the floor) might not accomplish much in other respects.
A suggestion from John Kessel
My immediate reaction to Mike’s email when I saw the “game-like reps” was to think of something John Kessel often suggests. It’s something he likes for when you don’t have use of a net. He calls it something like “loser is the net”. Let me explain.
Imagine you’re playing Winners (Queen/King of the Court). Normally, you’d do it over a net. In this case, though, one or more players act as the net. For example, you could have three players. Two of them play 1 v 1 while the other is the “net” they have to play over. When the rally ends, the loser and the “net” change places.
You could do something similar with doubles. Two players are the net, perhaps by holding a rope between them. When the rally is over, they rotate out and the losers form the net.
You can probably fit at least three mini doubles courts on your side during pre-game warm-ups. Playing this game would certainly be a way to get game-like reps.
Stuff you want to work on
Something work thinking about as you ponder your pre-match time is what you might want to use the time to reinforce. You don’t want to be teaching new things before a game starts, but you can work on things you’ve already introduced. For example, lots of teams do blocking footwork during their warm-up. It can help reinforce those patterns, especially if you’re providing feedback. You don’t want them working on the wrong patterns, after all.
Mike brought up the idea of the coach hitting balls at three passers. There are lots of variations on this sort of thing. I’m not a huge fan, broadly speaking, but it can have its uses. One of them might be to reinforce team defensive movement and positioning.
While they won’t be particularly game-like, there are lots of little things like this you could potentially work on in the pre-game time. Maybe there’s some eye work for your setters, or transition footwork for your middles. Whatever it is, just make sure it doesn’t distract from match preparation. You don’t want your players thinking about something other than playing the game once the whistle blows.
Remember the purpose
Remember that what matters most during your warm-up is that the team is prepared to play – both collectively and individually. This is your primary objective. What they need to be there can vary from team to time. There is obviously a physical element. That’s pretty consistent across team, possibly with small variations for individual player considerations.
It’s the psychological aspect which varies more.
Some teams are ready to go mentally as soon as they walk into the gym. Others need some help to get themselves in the right mindset. It’s up to you as the coach to figure out what your team needs – realizing that it can change.
One thing players don’t like in their warm-ups is change. They can be easily rattled if you change things up unexpectedly. Should it be that way? No, but such is life. As such, it’s generally a good idea to introduce significant warm-up changes beforehand so they are prepared.