A drill you’ll see a lot of in volleyball pre-game warm-ups is coach vs. defense. By that I mean players are on-court in their defensive positions with a coach attacking at them from near the net. For example, the coach is in position 2. There’s a setter in position 3 with defenders in positions 1, 6, and 5. The coach hits the ball at the defenders, they dig to the setter, and the setter sets the ball to the coach to be attacked again.
There are any number of variations on this structure. You could have fewer or more defenders on the court. There are different ways to have players sub in and out. Sometimes players rotate based on who plays the ball. Regardless, the basic idea is to give the players a defensive warm-up. Maybe there is work on covering exposed space and communication.
I ran these drills during my earlier collegiate coaching days. I tended not to like them – especially in pre-match warm-ups. In that specific situation I found it only has a downside risk with little in the way of upside. I don’t remember any times when the players finished up coach vs. defense with an improved attitude. I can recall many times when it was a somewhat frustrating experience, though. Maybe they weren’t playing balls in seams properly. Perhaps the intensity level wasn’t as high as it should be. Maybe they were being lazy in their transitions. Whatever the case, it didn’t feel like a good preparation for the match to come.
Beyond that psychological element, I have a few other gripes.
The attack angles aren’t realistic: Unless the coach is very tall, the ball being hit at the player is coming from too low relative to the net for realism. Plus, the coach is significantly closer to the defenders than an attacker would be. This is less an issue for the deeper defenders. For those close by (line), though, it creates real reaction and anticipation issues. It also forces the coach to hit the ball softer for those closer players.
Lazy movement and transition: Too often when I watch this drill going I see players barely moving on defense. They are meant (in most cases) to work on going from base to defense and back. A lot of time, however, they stay just in defense. Why? Because the ball is always going to the same location (no real reads). As a result, they don’t need to worry about reacting to the set location.
Too many of the wrong sets: Most of the time in these drills the setter must back-set to the coach who attacks from Zone 2. This is fine for the defenders since it replicates sets to Zone 4 on the other side. It’s a lot of reps for the setter to an area that will probably represent the minority of sets in game situations, though. Firstly, the majority of dug balls will get set to the OH in Zone 4. Secondly, by forcing the setter to set Zone 2 from all angles, you require them to set at difficult angles for would-be hitters. For example, a ball dug toward Zone 1 is generally not a ball a setter should set to a right side attacker because of the angle. This is especially true for a right-handed hitter.
Cutting things off after the dig: In a match situation after the back row players dig, they need to be moving to prepare to cover on a set to a front-row player (or preparing to attack for themselves). In this drill, though, the players instead are immediately looking toward the next attack.
Coach-centric: How you look at this aspect of the drill depends on your focus. The coach is the main driver of this drill in most set-ups. That means they can control things quite a bit – for better or worse. If you’re the only coach, being an active participant in the drill means you’re going to have a hard time watching the fullness of what’s going on. It also means that if you want to make a coaching point you have to completely stop the drill. Not good if you just want to talk with one player.
Getting to success: Many of the ways coaches run coach vs. defense don’t have a positive objective to them. One example is a player or a group of players rotate out on an error or the ball hitting the floor. That’s not the kind of confidence-building experience you want the players to have pre-match.
Of course every drill has drawbacks. Whether you use any given one depends on whether the value your players get out of it offsets the negatives. There are a few ways you can potentially improve the coaching vs. defense drill for your purposes, though.
1. Take yourself out: If you have an assistant coach, great! If not, consider using a player in the attacker role. The the latter introduces some other potential issues, but the general idea is to allow you to step back and observe. That will let you coach without necessarily having to stop the entire drill to do so.
2. Have a goal: Instead of running the drill for time or until someone makes a mistake, give the players an objective to reach before they sub out or rotate or whatever. It could be a number of good dig-set reps or a given amount of time without the ball dropping, or whatever suits the needs of your team. The idea here is to give the players a feeling of accomplishment at its finish rather than a sense of failure or punishment.
3. Add in a second attacker: In order to force players to be more disciplined about their defensive movement, make it 2-hitter drill by having hitters in both Zone 2 and Zone 4. Giving the setter two options forces the defenders to return to balance between plays.
4. Attack from over the net: This isn’t something you’ll be able to do in pre-match warm-ups, of course, but it might be something you can work-out in training. Done efficiently, it will allow you to incorporate more realistic setting situations for the setter and coverage movement for the defenders if done effectively.
Those are just some thoughts I have. What do you think? Do you use a version of coach vs. defense that you like? How can we make it better and more realistic?
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