This post originally went up in September of 2014 at the start of my third season at the University of Exeter

I previously told the harrowing tale of expecting 20-something women to try-out for the Exeter university women’s team I coached and ending up with 40-something. After making many, many cuts, we got down to 17 players to invite back. That’s along with 15 on the men’s side.

These were not expected to be the final rosters, however. It was anticipated that additional players would turn up in following training sessions. Those were players who hadn’t arrived to campus yet, didn’t hear about the trial, had a conflict, etc. That meant I had to plan these second sessions in much the same manner I did the first. By that I mean in terms of being flexible enough to account for an uncertain number of players. It was potentially something into the 20s.

One big constraint for the follow up was court space. These sessions were in our primary training facility, which had just one court and very little room around it. Basically, everything happened in the space of the court itself. Fortunately, we were up to 90 minutes for each group. We only had 60 minutes for the first.

For the women especially, the first try-out was mainly about cutting those not up to the standard because of the massive numbers. Having been able to cull that list, this session was about getting a good look at what we really had. It also provided a chance to start to think in terms of team composition. Yes, we may have needed to evaluate some more new faces, but it would be a minority part of the group, and as such it wouldn’t force a different approach.

Key areas of focus

It will come as no surprise that the two biggest areas I wanted to focus on to have a serious evaluation were setter and middle hitter. I haven’t seen too many situations where identifying OHs and OPPs, along with a libero, is a major challenge.

In the men’s case we had two guys back who set the year before. In an ideal world we’d probably want a new setter coming in, but we could get along without one. Only one of our primary MBs returned from the year before – maybe with one other – so that was really an area in need of new bodies. In the women’s case we lost all of our setters and primary middle players. We had one returner who could set and one who could play MB, but we were probably best if they didn’t have to.

The Plan

So with those priorities in mind – and given the requirement to be flexible in terms of the number of players to be accommodated – here’s what I came up with. Start with dynamic warm-up, then move on to pepper. If the numbers allow, do rotating partner pepper to get the players mixed up working together. Then do serving & passing, with setters in setting the ball to 4. From there, on to hitting by position. Finish up with some version of winners, depending on numbers.

The Reality

Shock of shocks, I didn’t have to deal with an excess of players. In fact, both teams were missing a couple of bodies from those called back, though there was one new male player. That let me basically run things to plan. With the men’s team I didn’t include setters in the passing drill because I pretty much know who they are, but instead shifted to a targeted good pass number (30), with a -1 for an overpass and back to 0 on a no-effort ball (they had to restart once). For winners I had the women play 4s because of the higher numbers (15), and the men play 3s on a narrow court.

There were two other sessions for both teams that week. I needed to make further cuts, at least on the women’s side, at the end of that span.

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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.

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