This is an entry in my Technical Director’s log for the 2018-19 season.

Training

We had three weeks between tournaments this time around, and lots of stuff to work on. The last tournament was a 3-day event ending in Monday. Tuesday is normally a practice day for us, but we gave them the evening off that week following to recover. Additionally, we used about half our normally allotted time on Wednesday to do some video review.

The two major focus points following the tournament were defensive readiness and serve reception. In the former case, that meant a big concentration on getting stopped and balanced, along with proper positioning. To work on this we did a lot of small-sided play – usually variations on 3 v 3 – where all the coaching attention and feedback was on that area. We definitely saw improvement.

In terms of reception, the big issue was deep balls to the players’ side. We did a combination of broken down type work and servers vs. passers games to turn attention to that. This is something that will need continued work moving forward, though.

As we approached the next tournament, this past weekend, we turned a bit more attention to the attacking side of things. That means a lot of games were teams could only score on attacked balls.

Performance training

The club started weekly performance training the last few weeks. The first session was evaluations. From there it progressed into weekly training sessions. Unfortunately, for the time being that is just once a week. The plan is to expand that in the future.

Focus problems

An issue we’ve had a few times this season is practices where the players’ focus has sorely lacked. They tend to do fine when the tempo is a game or drill is high, but if things slow down they sometimes get severely out of focus. This is especially an issue when they control the tempo – such as in games of 2 v 2.

At one point one of the coaches asked my feelings on introducing some kind of punishment for lack of focus. I’m not a big fan of physical consequences. Mainly that relates to performance issues – making errors, losing a game, etc. In the case of more discipline related issues, I’m more open. I did comment, though, that we could simply stop practice. Take away the thing they like doing most – playing.

Putting discipline to the side, though, it does tell us that keeping a higher tempo as much as possible is advantageous.

Ranking

Going into the weekend’s tournament the team stood at #7 in the Palmetto Region’s rankings. We dropped down to #22 in the AES rankings among teams in our Region, #1301 overall. The top team was #104, while the bottom was #2601 by comparison. For what it’s worth, when the rankings are shown with the national rankings, we came up in 32nd position.

Tournament

The weekend’s tournament – our third on the season – was in Myrtle Beach. It was a Palmetto Region event. We went in as the 6th seed. I had a look at the rankings and the seedings. They didn’t seem to match up, but whatever. The format was the same as the first event, meaning pool play Saturday, then cross-over matches Sunday morning rolling into brackets.

Unfortunately, a team dropped out from our pool. That left us with just three. In other places a 3-team format features playing three 25-point sets per match so everyone gets 6 total sets. Palmetto Region, though, goes in a different direction. They do a round of normal best-of-three set matches. Then 2nd place plays 3rd place with the winner going on to play 1st place to determine the pool’s winner. That means two teams get 3 matches – 1st place and the loser of the 2/3 match – while one gets 4 of them (winner of the 2/3 match). And all the matches beyond the first two for each team are repeats.

We won our two initial matches fairly comfortably, then had to play the 2nd place team again, which was against a 14s team playing up. That match was less comfortable. Everything cruised along until midway through the second set. Then perhaps their best overall player stepped up to the service line. She ripped off about 10 points in a row and tied up what was a lopsided score to that point. They used that momentum to win the set, though we took the 3rd fairly easily.

On Sunday we had a cross-over match against a team from the Carolina Region. They ranked about 800 places ahead of us on AES, though at this early stage that doesn’t mean a heck of a lot. We won in three to once more reach the Gold Bracket. In the quarterfinals we won convincingly against a lower ranked team (though higher seeded).

Our winning streak came to an abrupt halt in the semis with a sound defeat to tournament’s #2 seed. The second set was competitive, but the first was a blow out. Ill-timed missed serves killed any chance we might have had to stop the other team’s momentum.

So once again it was a T3 for us in a Region tournament. You may be interested to learn that the 14s team we beat twice in pool was the other semifinal loser.

Tournament takeaways

Two matches made clear some big areas of developmental need for the team moving forward. The first was the second match against that 14s team from our pool. The player I mentioned above had a really good jump float serve that she just killed us with. Late platforms saw balls get shanked all over the place. To my mind, that serving sequence highlighted two things to me. We need to get better in reception and we need to serve tougher.

The other was the Sunday crossover. The team we played was really scrappy. They didn’t have a lot of offense coming back, but did a great job keeping balls up and in play. My takeaway is that we need more power in our attacks. Some of that has to do with a more aggressive mentality, as not only did cautious swings not score, they also resulted in a bunch of errors over the weekend. We also, though, need to simply develop faster arm swings and better ball contact.

The team’s head coach asked me after the tournament what I thought was top developmental priority. I told him it was very close between better serving and stronger attacking. He argued that serve receive should be #1, with those other two coming in behind. My point, however, was that without stronger serving we would struggle to improve passing. Right now we just don’t have the quality of serve – at least consistently – that gave us so much trouble.

Similarly, the team showed nice improvement in defensive positioning and readiness this event. In order to continue that progress, though, we need to be able to face bigger challenges in practice. And of course we need a punchier offense to contend with the better teams.

On the offensive plus side, the shoot (31) definitely become a feature of the offense. That was something we specifically worked on last week in training, so it was good to see it implemented so quickly.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently Technical Director for Charleston Academy. His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

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