This question came up in a coaching group.

I have been asked to build a program for an elementary school that hasn’t had a team in 12 years. I am going to really concentrate on fundamentals for a while and I’m curious if anyone has ideas on showing or teaching the kids about how important a strong foundation is before moving on. I’m afraid they won’t understand and get bored with practice.

To my mind the last sentence is the key to answering the question.

If boredom is something you think is a real risk, you definitely need to take a different approach. If you’re afraid the kids won’t understand, again, a change of mentality seems to be in order.

I can just about guarantee this coach is thinking of “fundamentals” with respect to skills. I contend that skills are not the real fundamental in this situation – and arguably not as fundamental as many people think they are broadly. As one coach noted with respect to the true fundamentals:

It’s the interactions of the players as a team, and the flow of the game.

And going beyond that – especially for such a young age group – a major fundamental is FUN. A coach’s first objective has to be “keep them coming back”. If you can’t do that, nothing else matters. You can do that by structuring things the right way.

More importantly, though, find ways for them to do what you want them doing while having fun. Keep the “teaching” limited. Get them doing a lot, and in different ways to keep things fresh and engaging.

A way to do that

Let me offer an example using the introduction of passing.

Start off by showing them how to do a forearm pass. Very simple. Very basic. Then send them out in pairs. Have one toss and the other simply bump the ball up high enough that they can catch it themselves. Tell them something like, “Let’s see which pair can bump and catch the most in 2 minutes”. Then switch it up to where they have to pass so their partner can catch it.

From there you can put them in groups of three and have them pass the ball to the partner who didn’t toss to them. Then you can move to having the toss come from over the net with a target on their side.

After that it’s really easy to progress to simple little games. The simplest would be a 2-touch exercise where it’s pass to your partner, who passes it over the net. Then you can add in a third touch.

All through this process you give them goals, or have contests. This keeps the motivation level up. And, of course, you can walk around and help them get things right.

Moving quickly to game-play

Can you see the progression? It started with simple individual skill execution. Then it quickly added in a requirement for the player to play the ball to a teammate. That’s starting to develop the interaction mentioned in the quote above. And with the 2-touch and 3-touch exercises you can go from initiating the ball predictably to one of the partners to then mixing it up so they now have the next layer of collaboration – figuring out whose ball it is.

Voila! Now they’re playing volleyball! That’s what they’re there to do, so getting them there as quickly as possible only works in your favor. And it doesn’t even have to be truly pure volleyball. You can get them learning the foundational elements of the game through other variations.

The key through all of this is to keep giving the players new, fun challenges. Boredom comes when the players keep having to do something they feel like they already get – whether you agree with them or not.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

    1 Response to "Teaching fundamentals to youngsters"

    • Angali Volente

      This was a really great post! As a young coach I had a very difficult time teaching fundamentals to my high school team due to the lack of knowledge on where to really start. I completely agree with everything you said and I understand that fundamentals are one of the significant steps towards having a successful season. These tips were very helpful and I’m glad to be able to use this as a guide for future experience. I’m quite curious, when it came to my experience coaching the past season time was not really on our side. Everything, like game and practice schedules were rushed as the school year started. It was also our first senior boys’ team in over 45 years. Even though the season turned out good, I was afraid teaching fundamentals would take a while but later realized how significant it was as we skipped so many steps. Is one practice enough time to teach fundamentals?

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