This is the story of my university of Exeter teams playing in the Volleyball England Student Cup in 2013. In particular, this was the qualification phase. That’s a set of 1-day events. Your qualification was decided by your pool finish and those of others from that event and the other ones taking place at other times and/or locations. The ladies played on Saturday and the guys on Sunday. On paper at least, the draw gave the men a significantly better chance to advance than the women. That dictated different approaches to how I handled the teams.

For the women, I was always going to give the main starters a lot of play. I wanted to keep them improving their individual and team psychology. This is stuff mentioned in my coaching log entries. At the same time, though, there was ample opportunity to work additional players into the line-up. I had 10 on the team in total. They all played in at least part of three of the five matches we had in total. I regularly mixed players around without concerning myself too much with whether it made for a stronger or weaker line-up.

I should say it was a hard day for the team. They played 4 straight matches with only an additional 5-10 minutes of break added between matches 3 and 4. Then they had a set’s worth of down time before the 5th match (all were 2-sets to 25). The last match was against a poor opposition. I sat several starters and had others playing in different positions to try some things out.

On the day we lost 0-2 twice, had two 1-1 splits, and won 2-0 once. Officially that worked out to a 2-3 overall match record.

The guys has a much easier schedule. They played 4 matches (pool of 5), with a match break in between each of them.

For the men I needed to be more focused on trying to get wins – and having a sustained period of seeing them in action as I’d only coached them in one match prior. The first match – against the team which ended up winning the group pretty easily – was a struggle. The attitude wasn’t good and the offense wasn’t working. The captain and one of the senior players suggested a couple of changes based on what they’d seen in recent South West league play, so I moved the setter to OPP, brought in the second setter, and swapped in a different M2. We played weaker teams after that, but it was definitely a much more dynamic attack from there on.

I will confess that a couple of subs I made might have cost us a shot at advancing in the Cup as one of the better 2nd place teams. Because matches were just 2 sets, the way they determined a winner in the case of a 1-1 result was total points. On two occasions, after we won the first set we then scored enough points in the second set to win the match, so I put in the second string players. Once that might have cost us a set as it ended up 25-27. In the other perhaps it meant not winning by the margin we could have.

I would have liked to have given some of the guys more time. Everyone played at least a bit. Given the trip’s length, it would have been nice for everyone to have at least as much time as I could with the women.

Playing time is definitely one of those things we coaches struggle with on a regular basis. At least we do when in a competitive rather than purely developmental environment. The need to go for results tends to create conflicts. In that regard, having smaller rosters can be quite useful. Tough to keep players 10 and up happy when there is only so much court time to go around.

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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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