When I interviewed noted Juniors coach Mike Lingenfelter (Munciana) for the Volleyball Coaching Wizards project, the conversation at one point turned in an interesting direction. We were talking about the difficulty of moving a player up or down over the course of a club season based on their performance (or lack thereof). It’s not something you see a lot of in my experience.

Mike and I both agreed that there’s a lot of value in being able to move players around. Inevitably, certain players placed on lower level teams end up advancing quite rapidly in their development. That brings them up to the level of a higher team. Similarly, it isn’t unusual for players on a higher team to fail to keep up with their teammates’ progress. Thus, realistically they deserve to drop down.

Yes. We can all hear the parental screaming and yelling should their dear child get a team demotion. Let’s turn our attention to another consideration, though.

Team Chemistry

With females teams in particular, the bond between teammates is important. Moving players around mid-season can have a very serious chemistry impact. Popping a new player into a team that has trained and played together for half the season already can lead to all kinds of problems. It does not matter how good that player may be.

The idea that Mike and I discussed to try to get around this sort of thing was to avoid fixed teams. Instead, a group of players all trains together. Then, when it comes time to compete, the players are divided up into teams based on where they are at that point in time. This allows for upward and downward mobility, but without the chemistry issues noted above. Or at least there is a reduced risk of them since the whole group practices together all the time. Everyone knows each other.

This was something we did, after a fashion, when I coached at Exeter. Going into my second year we decided the number of players in the club warranted adding second teams to play in university competitions. We didn’t have enough practice time to have these teams train separately, however. So what we did was to train the first and second teams together as one group. We then divide them as needed when it came time to play matches. Certain players were always in the first team and certain players were always in the second team. Some, though, swung back and forth based on performance and development.

This system definitely has it’s challenges. You can read about how I handled coaching them in my 2013-14 coaching log. In the end, we had a pretty good season – if you believe reaching the national semifinal for the first time in school history counts as good. 🙂

Coach Development

Potential player movement aside, the other aspect of this kind of set up that Mike and I talked about is from the coaching perspective. By training the group all together rather than as multiple separate squads, you can create a master coach/mentee coach situation. By that I mean one master coach is in charge of training. Multiple under-coaches help out. Those sub-coaches then take charge of individual teams come competition time. At Exeter my assistant coached the second team on days when both teams played. This sort of arrangement is very useful in the development of inexperienced coaches.

Ever tried or seen something like this?

My question to you is whether you’ve seen or tried this sort of structure out before. And if so, how’d it go?

Clearly, this is mainly something you’d be looking at in terms of a club program. It could also come into play for high schools, though. Or even colleges that run junior varsity teams. And obviously whatever roster locking rules there are need to be accounted for in all this.

6 Steps to Better Practices - Free Guide

Subscribe to my weekly newsletter today and get this free guide to making your practices the best, along with loads more coaching tips and information.

No spam ever. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

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.

    3 replies to "Train them together, or separately?"

    • Chris

      This isn’t exactly what you are talking about, but when we had a particularly deep group of 18s one year, we made two “1” teams. We basically drafted so both teams were close to equal strength. That allowed the 12 or so best players get lots of game time instead of the 7-12 best players sitting watching 1-6 on the “1” team, and the 13-18th best players starting on the “2” team. Both teams practiced together on one court all year, and the coaches switched teams every tournament day.

      It worked out well. Both teams were always scheduled at the same location so switching coaches each day was easy. Both coaches were on the same page with only minor differences in philosophy. One team finished 3rd in the region and the other team finished 6th in a really tough region (Iirc one of the top two teams won 18Open and the 7th place team in our region won bronze in 18Open!). Players liked it, coaches liked it, parents liked it.

      • John Forman

        So in this case you didn’t have two teams out of one group, but rather two teams who trained together but played separately. No movement between squads, just coaches moving back and forth. Am I reading that correctly?

    • Stuart Pask

      This past season at my high school we actually had four teams. Varsity, JV, and two C teams sophomores and freshman only. Myself with many years of coaching and directing did most of the practice planning. The reason we did this was actually only because we had only two playing surfaces and had to share with the JV or do simple drills on a balcony. We had 18 players on the two C squads. One team had two setters and played a 6-2 without a libero. The team I coached during matches played a 5-1 with a libero. This worked very well for us, and was a great learning experience for all involved to understand how both systems worked. We scheduled as many matches as we could with these players, in some cases actually going to different schools to play on the same night. We need up playing other full fledge JV squads to freshman only squads. Needless to say most of the JV squads played to windshield wiper roll with cleans sweeps but it was good for player time and parents were also pretty happy. This allowed movement from one group to the other easily. It also helped the less experienced coach (her 2nd year coaching anything) to gain a lot of confidence and experience working with her own group. I really prefer my own group on my own court but this works out for us. Oh, we also split them as equal as we could. No 1 or 2 team or even a A or B. We called them “Set” and “Spike”. You can’t do one without the other. Our head coaches resigned at the end of this season and she was well respected and liked. Not sure what is going to happen now.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.