Tag Archive for warm-up

Quick drills that keep players moving

What are some suggestions for drills that are quick and can be run through in a few minutes consistently to keep them moving and pumped during practices?

Coaches wonder about this quite often from a couple of different perspectives. One is in terms of warming up. Another is in terms of keeping the training tempo high and players engaged. Let me address things from both perspectives.

Warm-up

For me, the main thought process behind picking a warm-up activity is getting the players’ heart rates up and muscles warm, and also executing some lower intensity volleyball skills. An example of this is what I call Brazilian volleytennis. I like this one because it involves so many elements. There’s lots of movement and relatively quick rotations, keeping players switching in and out of the play. On top of that, it requires good player communication and coordination along with a lot of reading. Oh, and it’s competitive.

A different type of warm-up activity which is more ball-handling oriented is over-the-net pepper. The version that has the most player movement and highest touch frequency is probably the 3-player version. There are lots of different pepper variations, so you have loads of options in this regard.

Depending on your age group, you might even want to jump straight in to more full game play, like doubles. Younger players, after all, don’t need the same warm-up as older ones.

High Tempo/Maximum Engagement

Once you get into the meat of a practice, keeping players moving tends to be more focused on player engagement, though it could also have a conditioning element. Basically, what we’re talking about here is activities where things happen quickly and changes are frequent. A popular example of this is Winners, also known as Queen or King of the Court, and variations on it like Speedball or the Belly Drill.

The main feature of Winners and games like it is the way players wave on and off the court. It keeps them moving, and possibly facing different challenges.

Another way to think about keeping players moving is to increase the tempo of your games and drills. Generally, this means finding ways to shorten the length of time between one repetition and the next. That tends to be a feature of wash type games and drills.

Make sure it’s not just about movement

It’s easy to come up with ways to make players move around a lot. That’s not really what we should be thinking about here. Most of us have limited time with our teams, and we can’t afford to waste any of that on activities that don’t involve volleyball. If you’re thinking that this movement could be part of player conditioning, I’d argue there are better ways to actually get in proper volleyball conditioning through the structure of your practice.

Those are my thoughts on the subject. I’d love to hear your own ideas. Feel free to share them via a comment below.

Game: 2-player, 2-ball Volley Tennis

Synopsis: This is a great warm-up type game that gets players moving and competing while also working on communication and strategy.

Age/Skill Level: This is a game for all levels

Requirements: 4+ players, full court

Execution: Split the group in half and put the teams on opposite sides of the court. Two players from each team will be involved in each rally, so the rest will be off behind the end line waiting to rotate in (if you have more than the minimum).

A rally starts with one player from each team on the court, and one off the court beyond the end line as “server”. The servers count to 3 together, then underhand throw the ball over the net to the other side. From here the teams play volley tennis with one contact per ball per side. Play continues until both balls are dead. If one team wins both balls they get a point. Otherwise, it’s a wash (no point). Game is to 10, or whatever you choose.

Variations:

  • You can play on a reduced sized court for younger players.
  • You could play with teams of 3, but probably wouldn’t want to go with more than that.
  • Illegal “serves” (toss too flat) can either be a replay or you could count them as if they were a missed serve. The latter counts as a ball won by the receiving team.
  • You can split the group out any number of ways – by age, by height, by shirt color, etc.

Additional Comments:

  • This game was first introduced to me, I think, by the Swedish players when I coached at Svedala. They referred to it as Brazilian 2-ball tennis (or something like that). To this day I refer to it that way with my teams.
  • Every team I’ve ever seen play this game – my own and others’ – has enjoyed it a great deal. Even up to national team level professionals.

She made me want to yell, “Nooooooooooo!!”

In the Winter 2016-17 edition of VolleyballUSA magazine – the official magazine published by USA Volleyball – there is an article that made me want to pull my hair out. They have a Junior Journal column featuring content from a youth player. In this particular instance, that player has been part of the USA U18 national team. Her article is titled “7 mistakes I’ll never make again”.

The very first “mistake” made me want to scream. It was not stretching enough before playing. Here’s the full text of it.

“Every time I tried to play without properly stretching, I ended up with an injury of some sort. Stretching and warming up before playing is even more important when you’re sore from previous workouts. Just a few extra minutes can prevent you from months of injury rehab.”

Repeat with me everyone – there is no evidence linking stretching before training or competition with injury prevention. In fact, as I wrote long ago, there is evidence suggesting that it can actually impair performance – albeit in a limited way.

You would think by now our players would be educated about this sort of thing. Clearly not, however. We coaches need to do a better job of that.

What really bothers me about this is this is a kid in the USA Volleyball system. When I attended the High Performance Coaches Clinic and CAP III courses in 2017 there were medical and training staff there telling us how useless stretching is for either injury prevention or avoiding soreness. Shouldn’t this stuff make its way to the athletes?

Clearly, I’m not against warming up. It’s just that static stretching is at best of questionable value.

Game: 2 v 2 side switch

Synopsis: This is a fast-paced, small-side game based on a Winners model, but with a major wrinkled that creates lots of movement and encourages player communication and problem-solving.

Age/Skill Level: This is a game for all levels

Requirements: 6+ players, full court

Execution: Play starts with 2 players on the “winners” side and two on the “challengers” side. One of the challengers serves to start the rally. The winners team has three contacts to attack the ball at the challengers, but the attack must come from the “challengers” side of the court. That means they must play either the first or second ball over the net so it can then be played for a final contact back to their starting side. Meanwhile, the challengers run over to the winners side to defend. When the winners play the ball back into the winners side of the court, they then have to do the same process (play the ball back to the challenge side and attack from there). So the ball is always attacked (or otherwise played over on a final contact) from the challenge side after first being received/dug on the winners side.

Whoever wins the rally becomes/stays the winners. The losing team rotates out and a new pair of challengers begin a new rally. A team earns a point by winning a rally when they started on the winners side. Play to a predetermined number of points.

Here’s some video of what it looks like in action. I recorded this in May 2017 during the training camp for the Australian Men’s National Team.

Variations:

  • If you don’t want to score the game you can play for time.
  • You can play with teams of 3. More than that would probably be too many people moving back and forth on the court, though.
  • If you don’t have the right player count to make fixed teams you can have each player keep individual score.
  • You can have the players stay on the ground (at least to start) if you want to use this game as a warm-up, as was done in the video.
  • You can require the teams to use all three contacts, or make them only use two.
  • For younger or less-experienced players you can require certain types of ball contacts. For example, the third contact must be a down ball.

Additional Comments:

Match-day serve & pass questions

This is an open question to especially college volleyball coaches, but potentially also to professional volleyball coaches.

Do you do a serve & pass session on match day?

If so, I’ve got a few follow-up questions.

Do you do it both home and away?

How long do you go?

What do you do?

When do you do it relative to the start of the match?

I ask because I can’t help but wonder at some things.

Serve & Pass routines

It is regular practice in the Lone Star Conference (NCAA Division II, mostly Texas) for visiting teams to do 30 minutes on-court prior to the match. Generally, this is done in the hour prior to the 60-minute match countdown. For example, if the match is at 6pm, the visiting team might do a session from 4:00 to 4:30. Some teams look to do them earlier in the day.

One of the other conferences in our area has a specific arrangement. The home team gets 75 minutes before match start to 60 minutes (so 15 minutes). The visiting team then gets 60 minutes from the start to the 45 minute mark. After that it’s shared until the 19 minute mark when the 4-4-5-5-1 begins.

These sorts of arrangements are not unusual in my experience. It was the same way when I coached in the Ivy League. No doubt this sort of thing happens all over the country. When I coached in Sweden, we did a serve & pass session on home match days. For Saturday matches, it happened in the latter morning, with team lunch to follow (we played at 2:00 or 3:00). Visiting teams didn’t usually have time, though there was never an issue with jumping on the court before the 60-minute countdown started if the home team wasn’t on the court.

Serve & Pass, then full team warm-up?

One of the things I find curious is when a team does a fairly active serve & pass time, then roll almost directly into a full pre-match warm-up. Aren’t the players already warm?

I saw a team doing a fairly intense 45 minutes (well at least the end was fairly intense), then 20 minutes later start pre-match with a dynamic warm-up.

Why do that? Is it a case of being married to the idea that pre-match warm-up must always be done a certain way?

Why Serve & Pass on match day?

The next question I have is the value of doing a serve & pass session. To be clear, I’m talking about a session on match day, not something the day before. The automatic response from coaches, I’m guessing, is that it gives the players a chance to acclimate themselves to the gym. I’m also thinking there’s a secondary motivation of getting extra practice time – especially time that doesn’t count toward NCAA limits in the case of US college volleyball.

So where’s the trade-off between the value of getting those reps and the added physical and mental exertion on match day? Players have to mentally ramp themselves up for the serve & pass session, then obviously have the physical workload for that period of time. Then they have to wind back down, recover, and do it all over again for the match.

Are the extra touches worth the fact that the players probably won’t be at full 100% for the match?

I’d honestly like to hear some opinions.

Skip the warm-ups?

What if you could go straight into training without first running a warm-up routine of some sort?

Give me a minute before you start in on me about proper physical (and mental) preparation for practice. I’m not talking about taking players from zero to full speed straight away. I am definitely in favor of being as efficient as possible – in all regards – when it comes to the warm-up process. I won’t go so far as to suggest there be none, however.

Consider this.

What if you walked into the gym and the players were already warm?

I’m not talking about a situation where practice starts at 5:00 and you arrive at 5:20 after the team has done their dynamic warm-up or whatever led by the strength coach or team trainer. I’m talking about practice starting at 5:00 with the players already ready to go. They’ve taken it upon themselves to get warm on their own.

On the face of it, you might not think there’s much difference there. I’ll grant that it’s a subtle thing.

The difference isn’t so much a time consideration. That could be an element, but perhaps not the most important. Instead, the main difference is in who’s directing the warm-up, and probably by extension how formal it is.

We coaches tend to want to control things. Warm-ups aren’t exempted from this. The result is that basically players all go through the same routine. This is true even though they may have considerably different physical and mental warm-up needs. The latter can actually end up adding an addition time requirement to ensure everyone is optimally prepared to begin the day’s work.

What if we left the warm-ups to the players? Do you think they’d do a better or worse job?

Chances are those warm-ups would look quite different. Players tend not to like the formulaic warm-ups we coaches design for them. They instead favor something a bit more free form. In fact, they might simply prefer to just play themselves warm. They do this by starting at a low intensity and building up from there.

This is what the players at Midwestern State seem to like to do. In the 15-20 minutes before the official start of practice during my first Spring they did a little bit of shoulder warm-up, but then quite quickly got into playing small-side games (like Winners/Queen of the Court). They obviously didn’t go 100% right away. By the time we started practice, though, they were pretty ready to go. As a bonus, they’d gotten a fair number of quality contacts.

Aside from the players warming-up how they best see fit (or enjoy), this sort of player-directed system offers some other benefits. For one, it allows them to enjoy themselves without being under Coach’s supervision. For another, depending on the group it can either be a good collaborative exercise and/or one which furthers the identification and development of leaders in the squad.

Something to think about perhaps?

Guys, I’m not impressed

One Friday during the 2016 season, I went to watch my first ever NCAA men’s volleyball match. I’ve watched them on TV, but I’ve never actually attended one before. That probably sounds a bit pathetic. In my defense, I’ve watched professional matches in Germany, have been to the CEV Champions League Final Four, and went to Poland to watch some of the 2014 World Championships. So it’s not like I’ve never seen high level men’s volleyball in person. And of course I coached the University of Exeter men.

Conveniently, I was hanging out in Long Beach, which was the home of the then #1 ranked Long Beach State (CSULB) team. They hosted a pair of matches that week, with the one on Friday being against #11 UC Irvine. I’d been to the Pyramid before for a Long Beach State women’s alumni match when I was visiting back in 2013. This was a better production in terms of the game day experience, which probably isn’t a surprise.

Long Beach State at the Pyramid

Take a look at the crazy number of guys on the Long Beach bench!

2016-02-19 19.18.23

Between set warm-ups

I was a bit late arriving to the match because of a late start to dinner beforehand. As a result, I missed warm-ups. Between sets, though, the non-starters came out on the court hitting (which I’ve never seen before). In a typical display of male whatever, the setters put the ball on – or even over – the net and the guys saw how high they could bounce the ball. There was no concern about hitting the net.

This is not the first time I’ve seen this sort of thing. I’m sure it won’t be the last. I wanted to say to the players, “Guys, I’m not impressed.”

What’s the point of this? You will never do this sort of thing in match situation.

It reminded me of things I’ve written about before in terms of warm-ups with respect to throwing the ball and slamming the ball off the floor the way many players do. Needless to say, I’m not a fan.

Player-run small-group training session

I watched some of the Svedala area (Sweden) players do a little bit of a training session one evening during July 2015 before I took over the team. It was something they organized and ran among themselves. There were two players from the Elite team, with three from the lower and youth teams. While watching, I found myself thinking it provided something of a template for a small group training situation, so I figured I’d share the basic outline.

They didn’t do any kind of formal warm-up. Instead, they basically played themselves warm through a progression. That started with a 1-touch game played inside the 3m line with the 2 Elite players against the 3 others. They started with forearm passing only, then shifted to overhead passing only.

From there they moved to a 2-ball, 2-person tennis type of game. Basically, each team served the ball underhand simultaneously. From there they played 1-touch until both balls were dead. Again, it was the Elite players against the 3 others, with the latter rotating a player in after each rally.

After that they moved to some serving and passing. One player served. One player was setter. There was a passer in 6 and a passer in 5, with one off as a sub. Each good pass resulted in a set to 4 attacked by the passer in 5. After each play, the players rotated with the 6 moving to 5, 5 coming out, and the remaining player coming in at 6. After a set number of reps, they switched servers.

Next up was a diagonal attacking and defense drill. They had a fixed setter setting both sides, then split the Elite players and partnered each with one of the younger players. Players were in positions 4 and 5. Each rally started with a free ball (initiated by a player’s mother, who coaches the U15s). Every set went to 4 and after the ball crossed the net the players switched positions. This was not a cooperative game. The hitters were swinging to score, but there were rallies.

That covered the first hour.

In the second hour they spent a bit of time working on 4-person defense with players in 1, 4, 5, and 6 with a player hitting from a stack of pads in 4 on the other side with periodic rotation. They did some more of the diagonal attacking and finished up with just some individual serving.

I feel like I’m forgetting something, but I think you get the idea. Maybe this gives you some thoughts for helping players in an open gym situations and the like.

 

Drill: 3 v 3 All-Touch Transition & Attack

Synopsis: This is a good game-play exercise that gets every player lots of touches and works especially on transition hitting.

Age/Skill Level: This is a drill for intermediate and higher levels.

Requirements: 6+ players, a ball, a net, extra antennae

Execution: Attach the spare antennae to the net to create a channel for attacking in Zones 2 and 4 (similar to what’s discussed here). Place three players to a side, with one at the next in Zone 2 (opponent’s Zone 4), one as the OH, and one as back court defender. One side starts the attack with a set to 4. The opposing player at the net blocks line, so the two others defend the angle. If the back court player digs the ball, the blocker sets the OH in Zone 4. If the OH digs the ball, the back court player sets the blocker in Zone 2, in which case the OH hitter on the other side blocks and the other two play defense. In this case the pattern is same in that if the front court player digs the ball, the back court defender sets the blocker, otherwise the blocker sets the OH. In other words, every player touches the ball each play. Continue until the ball goes dead, then the players rotate.

BertrandDrill

Variations:

  • This can be done cooperatively to encourage longer rallies.
  • The antennae can be adjusted to alter what the hitters have available to swing at around the block.

Additional Comments:

  • This drill is from England Junior National team coach Bertrand Olie and was posted as part of an interview with him on the Volleyball England website.
  • As a cooperative drill this could be used as a warm-up.
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