A question came up in a coaching group related to work on serve receive passing.

At what point, if at all, do you decide it’s not worth the time spent to become a good passing team and instead focus your time on out of system and transition?

Lots of women’s teams, even with a perfect pass, won’t necessarily get a first ball kill.

Because “good passing team” is pretty vague, the poster followed up with the following:

When is good, good enough? Do you keep pushing your team until they can get a 3.0 passing rating? Do you stop at 2.5? 2? 1.8? Marginal returns tells us that the higher you are, the more time and effort is needed to get slightly higher returns. So when do you stop and put your time and effort on something else?

This is a good question on how to allocate practice time. The What percent of practice should I spend on serve and serve receive? post discusses the subject in a general sense. And as I’ve noted before, many teams don’t train out-of-system play enough. The same can be said of transition. Let me dig into the specific focus here of what is good enough with regards to passing, though.

Season timing

A big question here is when in the season we’re talking about this. If it’s in the latter part, chances are your gains from additional serve receive training will be minimal no matter your starting point. Unless there’s some really glaring problem – like trouble with seams – you are likely better off working on other things.

That doesn’t mean dropping serve receive work all together! You want to continue giving your passer reps. It’s just perhaps that you spend less time in dedicated reception training and look more at getting them reps in games and other activities.

Of course earlier in the year you want a different mentality. At that stage you’re thinking in terms of training progressions, steadily building, and all that.

What is “good”?

That brings us to the subject of how well the team needs to pass – and where you’re at presently. The question you have to answer is how well the best team(s) at your level of play receive serve. That’s the obvious target.

I’m not saying you have to hit that mark exactly. You may not even need to be super close. It depends on other parts of your game. If you have a team that is stronger than others in the serve/defense/transition phase, you can afford to not be quite as strong in reception. On the flip side, if you don’t have strong pin hitters, and therefore need your MB to be the focus more in your offense, strong passing is important.

It’s worth considering other factors here too. My friend Mark Lebedew once shared a story about one of his teams at Berlin. It was one with a strong transition scoring mentality. They were good at turning defense into points. At one stage Mark decided they should get better in the sideout phase, so gave that more focus. It backfired. The team started to lose it’s sense of who they were, so he pulled the plug.

Where’s the biggest impact?

Ultimately, the question for the coach any time they’re thinking about practice priorities is where they’ll get the biggest bang for their time spent. That’s what needs to get the most attention. This is one of the key skills of coaching.

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 for Volleyball England (overseeing the national team pipeline systems), 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.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.