Have you been working on something regularly in practice, but not seeing improvement when it comes to matches? If so, I would suggest you’re probably not really working on what matters for live play.

Let me use serve receive passing as an example.

In live play a passer needs to do the following things:

  • Know their area of court coverage
  • Know seam responsibilities
  • Read the serve to anticipate where the ball is going
  • Judge if the ball is theirs
  • If it is, move to the ball as appropriate
    – If not, perform their alternate task (call in-out, transition to hit, etc.)
  • Execute the pass
  • Prepare for their next responsibility (e.g. transition to attack)

There’s a really good chance that if your players can pass well in practice, but not in games you’re not spending not enough on the first four bullets. Passing serve in a game is a lot more about those things than about technical execution (the fifth and sixth bullets).

Yes, technical execution is the thing that ultimately decides where the pass goes. In order to have good technical execution (unless through pure luck), though, those first four items need to work properly. The biggest problem we see with newer players is they don’t judge the serve well and don’t know if it’s theirs or not.

How do you fix that?

By putting them in passing situations which replicate what they’ll face in a game as closely as you can as often as you can. That means multiple players passing as the same time. That means a serve coming over the net.

This applies to any skill or tactic you work on. Think through what the player(s) actually have to do in the game to get things right. Then go out and make sure you’re working on all of it – not just the technical execution.

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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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