Training at a faster tempo than matches

If you’ve never heard the name John Wooden and you’re a coach – of any sport – then as soon as you finish reading this post I strongly recommend you go out and do some research. Many think Wooden is among the greatest coaches of all time. That’s not just from the perspective of winning a lot – which he did. It’s also from the perspective of teaching – which he was as well. A good biography about him I read a number of years ago is They Call Me Coach. That’s probably a reasonable starting point. After that you can delve into his numerous books and videos on coaching and leadership.

Wooden was the subject of some academic research into teaching/coaching methods back in the 1970s. This paper is worth a read. An interesting observation of the way he ran his training sessions is the following from a former player.

Practices at UCLA were nonstop, electric, supercharged, intense, demanding . . . with Coach pacing the sidelines like a caged tiger, barking instructions, positive reinforcement, and maxims: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” He constantly changed drills and scrimmages, exhorting us to “move quickly, hurry up.” Games seemed like they happened in a slower gear. I’d think in games, “why is this taking so long because everything we did in games happened faster in practice.”

I don’t know if Wooden was the motivation for it, but for a long time I have been very much in favor of using what I refer to as “overspeed” types of games and drills in volleyball. That is akin to what the player describes above. By overspeed I mean activities during which things happen faster than they would in a match. An example of this is initiating a new ball into a 6 v 6 game as soon as a rally ends. This is a feature of a game like bingo-bango-bongo.

There are a couple of reasons for doing this. One is to increase training intensity by not giving players much in the way of break time between plays. Another is getting players constantly focused on their next responsibility since they need to be alert to the next ball. All of this serves to make things seem to slow down during matches.

I’m certainly not saying I do everything in training overspeed. I’d probably have players dropping over on the court if I did. Mainly I use it in game-play situations. In part that’s because frankly I can’t stand the slow pace of things when it’s just normal play. I can get my players a lot more repetitions by using the high tempo games. It also gets a bit of conditioning work in there too. 😉

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

2 comments

  1. Oliver Wagner says:

    I made the same experiences with high tempo games, but found out that in real games focus and concentration dropped significantly. Did you make the same observations?

    My explanation would be that the game teaches the game. A difference in the tempo does not help for real matches.

    • John Forman John Forman says:

      No, I can’t say I’ve made the same observation. The immediate question that comes to mind is whether the focus drop on match-day reflects the relative level of the competition. Is the team playing down to weaker opposition? This is actually the subject of this post. Alternatively, do you have a bunch of players more motivated to train than to play (volleyball is about exercise, and/or perhaps the social element, rather than competition)?

      I don’t buy the idea that going overspeed somehow violates the whole “the game teaches the game” ideal (TGTG). Matches have a wide variety of tempos. Yes, there is a fairly consistent time between the end of a rally and the next serve, but everything in between is considerably variable – even more so when looking at it across the spectrum of opposition a team will face in a season. So long as trainings aren’t always at one single tempo, then I don’t see the problem.

      To my mind, running a game like 22 v 22 (6v6 game with a wash element) serves a similar purpose as playing something like half-court triples. It increases ball contacts per unit of time while staying true to the spirit of TGTG from the perspective of randomness, etc. Actually, by increasing the standard deviation of contacts and the number of times the ball crosses the net over the course of rallies, these sorts of games increase the variety experienced by the players, which is developmentally worthwhile I’d say.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.

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